Optimistic claims that the fanatical Basque leftist group ETA is in its death throes were contradicted by 170 kilos of plastic explosives last week in Madrid. In their most spectacular assault to date, ETA commandos calmly entered a Madrid telephone exchange and planted the explosives. Hours later the plastic devices detonated, ripping through the building, causing $20 million in damages and seriously disrupting service to 700,000 subscribers. The blast prompted rightwing politician Manuel Fraga to claim, “We are facing a case of revolutionary war.”
For more than a year, the Spanish army has contended that it has effectively crippled the separatists—who are demanding “national liberation” for two million Basques. But the bombing of the exchange and other recent attacks directed primarily at Spanish military and police targets have been a serious embarrassment to the military. Security sources say that the latest attacks are a desperate campaign into which ETA has thrown virtually all of its full-time commandos. For their part, the Spanish authorities have offered a $120,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of ETA members, and armed forces units have been called
in to patrol frontiers and guard vital installations. Insisted Interior Minister Juan José Rosón last week: “We are going to win this battle.”
Still, some Spaniards believe government’s angry response plays into the hands of ETA, which apparently wants to destabilize the system by provoking a military backlash. And the terror onslaught comes at a critically significant time. The trial of 33 men, several of them high-ranking officers, accused of attempting a coup on Feb. 23, 1981, is reaching its final stages. If heavy sentences are handed down, they seem certain to anger Francoist officers who are already seriously disturbed by the terrorist attacks and by what they consider to be a betrayal of Spanish unity by the granting of regional autonomy to the Basques.
One reason for ETA’S desperate tactics may be that the organization sees the battle going against it. An influential faction in ETA’s more moderate wing has renounced the use of violence. At the same time, public opinion has been swinging against ETA among Basques willing to work within a democratic system.
Spain now has a special reason to fear an upsurge in terrorism. In June, thousands of soccer fans will be arriving for the World Cup soccer tournament. Although ETA has said it will not harm the spectators or members of the 24 international teams, it has not ruled out using the event for its own ends.
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