Counter-Terrorism: Basque Terrorists Beaten Down

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March 23, 2006: The Basque ETA terrorist organization threw in the towel and declared a permanent cease fire. Spain has been fighting ETA terrorists since the 1960s. There have been eight ETA ceasefires in the past, none of which held. But this time, ETA is in bad shape. After more than four decades of efforts, ETA, is a victim of the global war on terror.

ETA was founded to obtain autonomy for the Basque people in northeastern Spain (and southwestern France.) The Basques are the last of the original Europeans (people who were there before the Indo-Aryan tribes moved in from the Eurasian plains 4,000 years ago). The Basques have managed to maintain their language and cultural identity by taking refuge in mountains along the Atlantic coast, and fiercely resisting numerous attempts to move or absorb them.

There were never more than a few hundred active members of the ETA, but their terrorist attacks could not be ignored. The peak year was 1980, when 85 people died (mostly police). But civilians died as well, and a combination of more autonomy for the Basque provinces, and increased counter-terrorism effort, has reduced the number of active ETA members to a few dozen. In the last four years, especially since September 11, 2001, more vigorous counter terrorism operations have led to the arrests of 650 ETA members.

Currently, over 700 ETA members are in prison, including nearly 200 arrested in France. The only way a lot of these captives can get out early, is if ETA negotiates a final peace. For decades, France looked the other way as Spanish Basques hid among French Basques. The understanding was, as long as you don't do any terrorism or criminal activity in France, we will not search for ETA in France. September 11, 2001 played a role in convincing France to abandon this policy, and crack down on ETA operations in France. This has led to the arrest of most ETA leaders in the last few years. All of this pressure has resulted in a large reduction in ETA attacks and, more importantly, dead victims. There have been only a few victims of ETA attacks in the last three years. Spanish counter-terrorism considered ETA basically dead, with the few remaining members fighting among themselves over what should be done. Concern over ETA terrorism has, since the Islamic terrorist attacks two years ago, declined. The Islamic terrorism was seen as a much more dangerous threat.

The demise of ETA is partly due to age. The young men and women who were with ETA at the beginning are pretty old now. Moreover, many of the older ETA members have given up on the use of violence and are more willing to negotiate, and take advantage of the greater autonomy in the Basque territories. This change of heart, and factionalism, plus all the arrests, are what has reduced ETA to its current tiny size. The few ETA members who were still in the mood for terrorism, apparently were convinced to hang it up.

 


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