Return of Eta's summer bomb campaigns puts fear into tourists

World Focus: Spain

When Eta took up arms 50 years ago in pursuit of an independent Basque homeland, Spain was an international pariah in the grip of Franco's dictatorship, the Basque language was banned and political parties were illegal.

Many considered it reasonable, even inevitable, that Basque political opposition should take the form of armed attacks on military targets: Eta's first armed action was the derailment of a troop train near Bilbao.

Exactly half a century on, Spain is a sturdy democracy and the Basque country enjoys more autonomy than any other region in Europe, but for the armed separatists little has changed. They still want to be free of Spain and to achieve full independence.

They are still planting bombs and firing pistols and funerals of civil guardsmen are still being held, like that at Palma Cathedral in Majorca yesterday for Carlos Saenz de Tejadá and Diego Salva de Lezaun, who were killed by a car bomb on Thursday in the island's tourist town of Palmanova.

Europe's last armed separatist organisation survived Spain's social and political transformation with its military structure, its armed tactics and revolutionary ideology intact. To the bafflement of the rest of Europe, and the grief of those who continue to mourn their dead, Eta dismisses Spain's democratic institutions as the mere window-dressing of an eternally oppressive state. Crown Prince Felipe and Princess Letitia attended the joint funeral of the dead officers yesterday. King Juan Carlos is due to arrive in Majorca next week for his annual holiday, adding to the security jitters. Spain's royal family has a summer palace just six miles away at Cala Major, where the King was targeted in a failed Eta attack in 1995.

But more baffling than the separatists' unresponsiveness to changing times is the inability of Spain's security services to defeat or seriously weaken them, despite superior intelligence and vital co-operation from France.

Spaniards have been assured for decades that Eta was on the brink of surrender or defeat. Such statements have come to be an essential part of the anti-terrorist rhetoric. But every time a top Eta leader is arrested (four in the past year) the organisation seems able to mount a spectacular armed riposte.

Security forces on the island remained on maximum alert yesterday. Police say they believe the terrorists are still "holed up in an apartment" on Majorca. Photographs of six suspects were circulated. For tourists, "maximum alert" translates into maximum inconvenience at airports.

Thursday's bomb attack came a day after another blast injured scores of people in Burgos, in the north of the Spanish mainland, and this double-whammy was the most dramatic show of Eta force for years. Officials suspect the operation was designed as a violent celebration of the organisation's anniversary. Unusually, no warning was given before the attack, signalling a steelier approach.

Whatever the motivation, the attacks reveal how Eta's tactics have evolved over the decades: not only did terrorists target armed agents of the Spanish state, they also chose their place and time – one of Europe's top tourist destinations – with an eye to the maximum propaganda effect. Eta's summer terror campaigns in Spanish resorts have become a regular feature of recent years, focusing international attention, and highlighting the authorities' helplessness.

Once again, tourists across Europe will be worrying if their Mediterranean break will be safe. Eta warned recently that it would resume a campaign against coastal holiday targets. Should we take these warnings at face value?

The Prime Minister, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, insists every effort is being made to catch "these vile murderers" but his words will fail to convince a traumatised nation. Every time Eta has been thrown on to the defensive it has come back with a violent response.

Mr Zapatero's socialist government which, like its predecessors, has tried everything from the carrot to the cosh to solve the separatist conflict. Yet, socially isolated but for a fanatical hard core, commanded by younger, less experienced and harder-line militants, Eta at 50 remains fully operative.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: PMLD Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: PMLD Teacher A specialist primary school i...

Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...

Recruitment Genius: Public House Manager / Management Couples

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about great ...

Recruitment Genius: Production Planner

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Day In a Page

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

Homeless Veterans appeal

The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

How books can defeat Isis

Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

Young carers to make dance debut

What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

Design Council's 70th anniversary

Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

Dame Harriet Walter interview

The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

Bill Granger's winter salads

Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links