Compared with the ruinous attacks that struck Spain in March, the
bombings over the past 14 days in the northern provinces might be
expected to attract little notice: Seven weak explosives, wrapped in
plastic bags, and weighing less than 300 grams, caused only slight
injuries and minor property damage.
But in Spain, a country that has suffered domestic terrorism for
the past 30 years, the explosions were an unnerving reminder that
ETA, the Basque terrorist group, was still a threat.
The attacks on Spain's northern coast that began August 7 in
resort towns like Ribadesella and Santander and occurred as recently
as Saturday in Sanxenxo and Baiona are not, historically speaking,
unusual. ETA (the initials stand for "Basque Homeland and Freedom")
has a history of mounting "summer campaigns" intended to disrupt the
country's profitable tourist industry.
These bombings, however, are significant for several reasons.
They abruptly ended speculation, rampant since March 11, that the
Basque group was on the verge of declaring a truce. ETA may have
intended the bombs to reaffirm its presence and counter the
widespread perception that it is foundering. But for many, the
blasts had the opposite effect, underscoring the organization's
The ETA bombings were the first under the government of Prime
Minister Jose Luis Zapatero. Despite declaring a commitment to fight
terrorism, Madrid remains guarded in its public show of concern.
Emphasizing that it "rejects such acts - especially in places where
people gather," an Interior Ministry spokesperson, who wished to
remain unidentified, says that the "investigation is still open, and
even though these bombs were not powerful and caused no real
injuries, we do not want to minimize this kind of activity. But we
do not want to maximize it, either."
Others willing to speculate about ETA's fate, however, say the
group has reached a nadir. "Right now ETA is extremely
marginalized," says Juan Aviles, of the University Institute for the
Investigation of Internal Security. "And they're at their weakest
point in 30 years. Logically, they should lay down their arms, but
they aren't logical, and they haven't given up the fight. Sometimes
when a group is weakest, it acts most dangerously."
ETA's perceived weakness has several roots. Effective police work
and a new willingness among other nations to cooperate with Spain's
efforts to capture and extradite ETA members have led to the arrest
and trial of a number of suspected affiliates. In April, several
commando leaders armed with explosives were arrested in southern