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The Euskadi Ta Askatasuna, or ETA, is the name of a Basque terrorist group. The ETA, which means "Basque Fatherland and Liberty" (or "Basque Country and Liberty") in the Basque language, Euskara, seeks to create an autonomous socialist state for the Basque people, independent of neighboring Spain and France.



In general, the ETA has two demands:

  • That the ETA be allowed to create a Marxist government in what are known as the Basque Country in Spain (Vizcaya/Bizkaia), Guipúzcoa/Gipuzkoa), Álava/Araba), and Navarre/Nafarroa) and the Pyrénées-Atlantiques counties of southwestern France (Lower Navarre, Labourd/Lapurdi and Soule/Zuberoa); and
  • That imprisoned ETA members currently awaiting trial or serving prison sentences in Spain be released.


According to the International Policy Institute for Counter-Terrorism (ICT), "the organization is reported to have members and underground supporters in locations as diverse as Algeria, Argentina, Belgium, Cape Verde, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Germany, Holland, Italy, Mexico, Netherlands, Panama, Sao Tome and Principe, Uruguay, and Venezuela...ETA is believed to have received training at various times in the past in Libya, South Yemen, Lebanon, and Nicaragua. Some ETA members allegedly have sought sanctuary in Cuba. The group has ties with the Irish Republican Army through the two groups’ legal political wings."

Some governments and organizations, for varied reasons, have sponsored the ETA in the past. This could be because of similar Marxist ideology (Nicaragua, Cuba) or goals (the IRA), a desire to undermine the West (Libya, Yemen, various Islamic terrorist organizations), or bad historical experiences with Spain and/or France (various former colonies).

The connection with the IRA is especially well documented. In his 1986 book The War Against the Terrorists: How to Win It, counterterrorism expert Gayle Rivers recounts in detail the links between the ETA and the IRA:

"I was well into an operation on behalf on Spain, tracking down ETA leaders in their sanctuary in the south of France, close to the Spanish border. During one of my frequent debriefings with my contacts, they expressed their concern with regard to intelligence they had picked up about and ETA arms shipment. At the time there had been a free flow of favors between the IRA, who lent the Spanish terrorists instructors in bomb-making and Eastern bloc weaponry in exchange for ETA assistance in obtaining a massive supply of explosives and arms."

Motto and Symbol

The ETA's motto is Bietan jarrai, which in Basque means "keep on both." Its symbol is a snake coiled around an axe.


  • Spring/Summer 1959: A group of young Basque nationalists form the ETA. Many members come from youth groups of the Basque Nationalist Party, or PNV, a politial party formed in 1895 by Sabino Arana in 1895 to keep Euskadi, the Basque country, ethnically and culturally "pure."
  • October 8, 1999: The ETA is designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTA) by the U.S. government for the first time.
  • May 12, 2001: Thirteen people are injured when a car bomb explodes in Madrid days before regional elections in the Basque County. Eight minutes before the bomb exploded, an anonymous ETA caller warned authorities.
  • May 24, 2001: Santiago Oleaga Elejabarrieta, 54, the chief financial officer of El Diario Vasco (The Basque Daily), the most widely circulated newspaper in the Basque region, dies instantly after being shot in the head. The attack was likely motivated by the anti-ETA editorials of El Diario.
  • May 25, 2001: Thousands of Spaniards participate in a silent march through San Sebastian, a northern city, to protest the killing of journalist Santiago Oleaga Elejabarrieta. Banners are held that read "ETA no: peace and freedom." Spanish reporters give a statement saying, "However much they kill and try to impose their cause through terror we, as media professionals, will defend the expression which took so long to achieve in this country."
  • July 10, 2001: Luis Ortiz de la Rosa, 33, a police officer, is killed at 8:30 PM in a southern neighborhood in Madrid when a car bomb explodes. The blast also injures twelve. A call from the ETA 45 minutes before had been made, and police were clearing the area when the bomb detonated.
  • July 11, 2001 Hundreds of people gather in Madrid to commemorate the life of slain policeman Luis Ortiz de la Rosa, who was killed the preceding day. The rally protests the ETA’s actions.
  • July 14, 2001: Twin attacks by the ETA claim the lives of two within hours of each other. Jose Javier Mugica, 50, a regional councilor and member of the center-right Union of the People of Navarra party, dies after a car bomb is placed in his van in the northern village of Leiza; Mikel Uribe, 44, a plainclothes police officer, dies after being shot from behind in his car in the town of Leaburu.
  • July 15, 2001: CNN reports that hundreds of Spaniards have gathered in city and town halls around Spain to silently protest two killings blamed on the Basque separatist group ETA. The cities include Pamplona, Vitoria, and Zaragoza.
  • July 27, 2001: Three people were injured at 2:30 AM when a powerful explosion occurred in front of the La Caixa bank in downtown Madrid. In the same day, Spanish authorities deactivated what was described as a "massive" car bomb in an airport in Malaga, a major tourist destination. An ETA caller warned ahead of time that the bomb was set.
  • August 24, 2001: Spanish police arrest six suspected ETA members in the Barcelona suburb of Terrasa, seizing over 550 pounds of what CNN reports as "explosives, firearms, forged license plates and electronic detonator components."
  • August 27, 2001: Days after a series of raids, the ETA calls authorities an hour and tells them a bomb had been set an hour before an explosion occurs at 8 AM in a Madrid airport.
  • September 2, 2001: A home-made bomb explodes at 9 AM in an electronics store owned by an officer of the Ertzaintzain, or regional police force. The bomb, which explodes in Vitoria, the Basque capital, damages cars but causes no injuries.
  • February 26, 2002: U.S. Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill announces that the U.S. has frozen assets of 21 people associated with the ETA.
  • December 22, 2002: Ibon Fernandez Iradi, who is suspected of teaching ETA members how to make bombs, escapes from custody in a police station in Bayonne, France.
  • October 8, 2003: 34 suspected ETA members are arrested in the early morning. Twenty-nine are apprehended in northern Spain and five in France.
  • December 9, 2003: Police in southwestern France arrest Gorka Palacios, 29, the alleged military commander of the ETA. Three people who the police said were collaborator were also arrested in the 6 AM raid on a house in the village of Lons, near the town of Pau. At a news conference in Marrakech, Morocco, Spanish interior minister Angel Acebes characterized the arrests as of "great significance" and of "first magnitude." (Source)
  • January 29, 2004: Spanish prime minister Jose Maria Aznar says that the only blame for the leak of an intelligence report detailing a meeting between Socialist opposition politician and the Basque separatist group ETA lies with Josep-Lluis Carod-Rovira, who attended a meeting in France with the ETA earlier in January.
  • February 18, 2004: The ETA announces on regional radio that a cease-fire in the Catalonia region had been in place since January 1 because of "a desire to unite the ties between the Basque and Catalan peoples." The ETA did not say when it would end.
  • February 20, 2003: Nine men and a woman are, making the number of ETA suspects detained this week to 33. They worked on a Basque-language newspaper, Euskaldunon Egunkaria, published statements from the ETA.
  • March 11, 2004: More than 190 people die and 1,240 injured during morning rush-hour train-station bombings in Madrid, the largest European terror incident in terms of lives lost since the 1988 Pan Am flight 103 flight bombing. ETA is immediately suspected, but later suspecion falls on Al-Qaeda affilates, perhaps in cooperation with the ETA.
  • March 21, 2004: A spokesmen for the newly elected Socialist Party government of Spain rejects a preposal from the ETA for negotiations because the ETA was not prepared to surrender its weapons. (Source)


Accounts of membership in the ETA varies due to its underground nature. The ICT estimates that the ETA is "quite small, perhaps no more than 20 hard-core activists and several hundred supporters," remarking that its "non-hierarchical structure" and "small self-sufficient cells with only the most tenuous links with the organization's leadership" make it difficult to guess.

In fact, the ETA's level of support has dropped significantly since its inception in 1959. The Guardian says that "popular support appears to have declined as democracy has given the Basques more rights, and popular demonstrations against the group in Basque cities frequently occur following its killings."


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