New concerns have surfaced that the ETA, the Basque separatist group, may be launching an offensive following Tuesday's car bombing in the Spanish city of Bilbao. Though the ETA has not claimed responsibility for the bombing, the government believes they carried out the attack. Observers speculate it was in revenge for last week's arrest of 23 members of Batasuna, the ETA's political front.
The bombing, which injured a bodyguard for a local politician, was the "most serious" of four attacks blamed on the ETA since the peace agreement crumbled in June, reports the Associated Press. It is the only attack that resulted in critical injuries.
The conflict has killed more than 800 people since the late 1960s, but none since two people died in a massive bomb blast at Madrid's Barajas airport in December 2006.
Last week, authorities sealed off a Basque town and rounded up 23 members of Batasuna's executive committee — an organization whose leaders had previously been allowed to live freely and even give news conferences. Seventeen remain jailed on suspicion of belonging to ETA.
The Spanish government, which blames ETA for the attacks, has said these "acts are not going to frighten us," reports Agence-France Presse. ETA has not claimed responsibility for the bombing. A telephone call preceeded almost all of their bombings before 2003. If ETA claims responsibility, it could indicate a return to "attacks aimed at killing."
The most senior Batasuna official still at liberty, Pernando Barrena, termed the arrests Thursday of 23 top Batasuna members a "declaration of war" and warned of a "new cycle of violence" in Spain.
Earlier Tuesday, Spanish Interior Minister Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba said the government had stepped up security measures throughout the country, fearing a new ETA attack.
He said security will be particularly tight on the country's national day on Friday, when King Juan Carlos, Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero and senior government and military leaders will attend a military parade in Madrid.
Reuters offers a time line of peace initiatives between Spain and Euskadi Ta Askatasuna (ETA), or Basque Homeland and Freedom. The group has been fighting since the 1960s for an independent homeland in northern Spain and southwest France. In recent years, violence has ebbed, but stalled peace talks led ETA to declare that a 15-month cease-fire was over in June.
Former Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, who survived an ETA attack while he was opposition leader in 1995, made eliminating the group a priority. His socialist successor, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, and his government tried and failed to sign a peace deal with ETA, breaking off peace talks after the airport bombing.
The most senior government official in the Basque region, President Juan Jose Ibarretxe, is currently in Chile. The website of Basque Radio-Television says Ibarretxe accused ETA of "crossing the line to nowhere."
Ibarretxe, who is in Santiago de Chile for an official visit, said the attack against the bodyguard "is an inflection point" as it means "to open the path, once again, of attacking people."
"This is absolutely unacceptable, it is disgusting for the Basques because ETA wants to take us back to that destructive past that goes against personal properties, life and innocent people that have made no trouble to the society. On the contrary, they were working, in this case, to keep the basic rights of the people," Ibarretxe added.
As a consequence, he said, "this inflection point to nowhere will not force that ETA prevents the Basques from making their way." "The Basques will make their way, a way that will deeply reject ETA's violence. We will not accept the way back to the attacks against human lives," Ibarretxe added.
Batasuna was formally banned in 2003 because of its links to ETA. The British Broadcasting Corp. reports that the ban was a setback for the party, until the breakdown of peace talks with ETA led to its revival.
Batasuna was outlawed as an organisation and since then its members have been out of Spanish politics - at least on an official level. As individuals, Batasuna members have been permitted to continue their political activities, as long as they stick to the law.
According to terrorism experts, the banning of Batasuna had significant positive results. They say the removal of Batasuna's main funding source - the salaries of its politicians - prevented it from funding street violence and supporting ETA activities.
Low-level violence of all kinds fell dramatically across the Basque region. But during the Spanish government's failed process of dialogue with ETA, Batasuna looked to be returning to the political scene.
A Spanish judge has begun questioning the detained Batasuna politicians, the Associated Press reported on Sunday.
They were arrested in Segura while illegally meeting Thursday, the authorities said. Judge Baltasar Garzón, who ordered the raid, will determine after questioning whether to file charges against them, a court official said.
Spanish radio reported that the detained were expected not to answer any questions by Garzón. On Saturday, thousands in the Basque country protested against the arrests.
Founded in 1959, ETA is thought to have hundreds of members, though its exact size and strength is unknown, according to a GlobalSecurity.org report. It has links to other terrorist groups and finances its activities through robbery, kidnapping, and extortion.
The ETA has established relations with the Irish Republican Army, and with the Algerian Islamic Group, for which it has provided training in the production of explosives, guerrilla warfare and urban terrorism. ETA has obtained weapons, safe houses, and other logistics support from Islamic networks in Europe. ETA groups may receive training in Iranian and Lebanese camps. It has received training at various times in the past in Libya, Lebanon, and Nicaragua. Some ETA members allegedly have received sanctuary in Cuba.
In a political analysis that predates Tuesday's bombing, The Economist says Spain's ruling party wants to shore up the Basque Nationalist Party, or PNV, led by Josu Jon Imaz. The PNV dominates politics in the semi autonomous Basque region and its leadership matters to Prime Minister Zapatero.
It is not, however, its administrative and legislative power over 2.1m Basques that makes the PNV so important to Mr Zapatero. He cares about two other things. The first is the PNV's role as the engine driving what is often the pushiest region in Spain. Where the Basques lead, others (especially Catalonia but also Galicia) try to follow. The second is the party's attitude to, and fraught relationship with, the terrorist group ETA. The PNV would be a vital contributor to any possible peace settlement with ETA...
The PNV is divided both over how hard to press Madrid and over how friendly to be to ETA. Mr Imaz is a moderate "pactist" who wants to be tough on ETA and not too pushy with Madrid. His opponents, the "sovereigntists", want to be more aggressive with Madrid and gentler on ETA. Mr Imaz's narrow leadership victory four years ago showed how balanced the two factions are. His sovereigntist rival, Joseba Egibar, came within a whisker of victory.