Car bomb in Spain proves ETA’s resilience

BURGOS, Spain – The Basque separatist group’s No. 1 leader was nabbed in France as he slept late last year. His replacement lasted only a matter of weeks. Over the past couple of years, Spanish and French police have put most of ETA’s leadership in jail, and with each arrest comes new claims the group has been decapitated.

Yet nothing authorities do seems enough to kill the insurgency, which proved in Wednesday’s massive car bombing that it is still a dangerous and sometimes lethal force.

The bomb — 200 kilograms (440 pounds) of explosives — did not kill anyone, but it shattered a 14-story barracks housing Spanish civil guard police and their families. Some 41 children were among those sleeping in the barracks and surrounding buildings when the blast went off at 4 a.m. (0200 GMT, 10 p.m. EDT Tuesday), according to Interior Minister Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba. Sixty people were injured, mostly by flying glass.

The blast blew off much of the barracks’ facade, left a deep crater that filled with water from broken underground pipes and hurled the van that carried the bomb about 230 feet (70 meters). There was no warning beforehand, no attempt to give people inside time to evacuate.

“The attack aimed to cause deaths,” Rubalcaba told reporters after rushing to the scene. “After today, we know that we are dealing with murderers, savages and lunatics. That doesn’t make them stronger, but it undoubtedly makes them more dangerous.”

The explosion came just days after Spain’s El Mundo newspaper reported that Spanish authorities had received intelligence reports that three vans had been prepared as car bombs and were expected to cross into Spain from France. One of the vehicles mentioned was a Mercedes Vito, the same model that was used in the Burgos attack.

The attack occurred at a politically charged moment. The 50th anniversary of ETA’s founding is Friday, and the group has a history of bombings during holidays or before Spain’s economically important summer vacation period, which begins this weekend.

ETA — founded in 1959 — has killed more than 825 people since 1968, when it launched its violent campaign for an independent homeland in the Basque region of northern Spain and southwestern France. Its name is a Basque-language acronym for Basque Homeland and Freedom.

In its half-century of existence, ETA has outlasted every other major armed group in Europe, including the IRA in Northern Ireland, Italy’s Red Brigades and Germany’s Baader-Meinhof.

The Basque group has been hobbled by a wave of arrests since peace talks with the Spanish government collapsed in 2006, and since France stepped up cooperation following the killing of two Spanish police officers working on French soil last year.