The worst just got worse

SUN JOURNAL

Violence: Many Spaniards had begun to believe that terrorism was on the wane in their country. Then came the train-station bombings Thursday.

March 13, 2004|By Kathy Lally | Kathy Lally,SUN STAFF

Spaniards thought they had lived through the worst of the violence. For more than 30 years, Basque separatists had been exploding car bombs, ambushing government officials, gunning down military men, trying to scare off tourists.

With the Basque group ETA on the run, Spaniards thought calmer times lay ahead. Then came the 10 explosions Thursday on commuter trains in Madrid, which killed nearly 200 people and injured 1,400 more.

Consumed by grief, overwhelmed by the suffering, they stood confused. Who could have done this?

Officials immediately suspected ETA, which has denied taking part in the attacks. The possible involvement of al-Qaida is being investigated.

Whoever turns out to be responsible, the magnitude of the latest attack goes far beyond what the country had endured until Thursday at the hands of ETA.

ETA, which stands for Euskadi ta Askatasuna and means Basque Homeland and Freedom, was founded in the 1950s by Basque college students seeking independence for their region in northern Spain. At first, it found a measure of international popularity because in Generalissimo Francisco Franco's Spain it was seen as an anti-fascist movement.

Although most Basques disavow ETA's violence, they are proud of their culture and language, and many support more autonomy within Spain or independence.

In 1978, Spain recognized languages other than Spanish and granted greater autonomy to its 17 regions, including the Basque region. The country has steadfastly refused to consider ETA's demands for independence.

Authorities in the United States have accused ETA members of having links with Libya, Lebanon and Nicaragua, and at times seeking training in those countries. Cuba has been suspected of providing refuge to ETA members, and others are thought to be hiding in South America.

ETA, which Spanish police say has only several dozen committed fighters and perhaps a few hundred members, has been blamed for nearly 900 deaths since 1968 in operations characterized by assassinations or small-scale attacks. Usually, ETA either takes aim at a particular person or seeks to sow fear by planting a bomb and then warning the public to stay away.

Its worst attack occurred in 1987 in Barcelona when a bomb blew up in an underground parking lot at a supermarket, killing 21 people.

Last year, three people were killed, and Spanish police suggested that the group was in disarray after the arrest of 187 people in Spain and 65 in France on accusations of ETA activity.

Typically, ETA kept Spaniards off balance with one attack after another, as it did in one brief period in 2001:

In July 2001, ETA killed a 44-year-old policeman in the Basque town of Tolosa. Two gunmen shot at him 19 times. The day before, a bomb was placed under a car in the Navarra region town of Leiza, killing Jose Javier Mugica Astibia, a conservative politician.

Also that month, a bomb destroyed a bank in the middle of Barcelona, injuring three people.

In August, police carried out raids in the Basque region and Catalonia, arresting 14 people and seizing about 1,000 pounds of explosives.

Twice, on Aug. 3 and Aug. 5, ETA took responsibility for placing explosives on the Madrid-Seville bullet train line.

On Aug. 22, police arrested eight people equipped with explosives and a booby-trapped car in San Sebastian. Two days later, police arrested six more ETA suspects near Barcelona. More explosives were found.

At the end of the month, ETA called police and said a booby-trapped car had been parked in a garage at the Madrid airport. It blew up, causing immense destruction but no deaths. (In 1997, five grenades had been thrown on the runway.)

In September, a bomb exploded in the center of the Basque capital of Vitoria, damaging several cars but causing no injuries.

Dozens were injured in October in a car bombing in Madrid and one near Barcelona, in the resort town of Salou.

In November, two car bombs went off in Madrid, the first injuring 17 people. The second, which went off during rush hour, injured 95.

Only last month, Spain issued an alert when ETA announced a cease-fire in the northeast region of Catalonia.

Officials predicted that if ETA was stopping attacks in Catalonia, it would go on to a new target.

Then Spanish officials worried that ETA would attempt an attack to disrupt elections, which are being held tomorrow. Two weeks ago, police found a van headed toward Madrid carrying enough potassium chloride and dynamite to blow up a large building. Two people were arrested.

Following is a list of major attacks in Spain:

March 11, 2004: Bombings kill nearly 200 people and wound more than 1,200 in Madrid.

July 13, 1997: Miguel Angel Blanco, councilman in the Basque town of Ermua, dies in a hospital after being shot by his ETA kidnappers.

Feb. 14, 1996: Francisco Tomas y Valiente, former president of Spain's Constitutional Court, is shot dead at the Autonomous University of Madrid.

April 19, 1995: Jose Maria Aznar, then the opposition leader and now prime minister, survives a car bomb attack in Madrid.

June 21, 1993: Six military personnel and one Defense Ministry worker are killed by a car bomb in Madrid.

Feb. 2, 1992: Three soldiers and two workers are killed by a car bomb in Madrid.

Dec. 11, 1991: Ten people, including four children, are killed in a car bomb attack on Civil Guard barracks in Vic, northeastern Spain.

Dec. 11, 1987: Eleven people, including five children, are killed by a car bomb attack on civil guard barracks in Zaragoza, northeastern Spain.

July 14. 1986: Twelve Civil Guard police officers are killed by a car bombing in Madrid.

April 25, 1986: Five Civil Guard officers are killed by a car bombing in Madrid.

Dec. 20, 1973: Luis Carrero Blanco, the prime minister appointed toward the end of Franco's dictatorship, is killed by car bomb in Madrid.

June 7, 1968: A 25-year-old policeman is shot to death in the Basque city of Villabona, the first fatal attack attributed to ETA.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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