Spanish security forces differ over ETA’s continued ability to strike

Prime Minister Rajoy meets with police and intelligence chiefs to ascertain operational capacity of Basque terrorist group

ETA is finished and will never be revived; ETA is inoperative, wounded, but may retain the ability to act; ETA is merely hibernating and could carry out an attack. These are the three conclusions presented to Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy by the heads of the three main security forces in Spain at a meeting in mid-April.

The uncertainty over the definitive end to ETA’s armed action prompted Rajoy to meet independently with the chiefs of the Civil Guard, the National Police Corps (CNP) and the CNI intelligence agency, with Interior Minister Jorge Fernández present as interlocutor. Each maintained the position of their respective service.

ETA announced a “definitive” end to violence in October 2011 but since that historic development the government has made no movement toward concessions for the terrorist organization.

On March 26 of this year, ETA released a statement during an official visit by the prime minister in Paris criticizing both the Spanish and French governments for their “negative and obstructive attitude.” The text warned of “negative consequences” over Norway’s decision to expel four ETA leaders who had been involved in negotiations with international mediators and accused the CNI of sabotaging the talks. The organization said that it was happy to discuss disarmament within an “framework of dialogue” and spoke again of the issue of ETA prisoners.

ETA could resume terrorist activity if its political objectives are not met”

Rajoy gave a press conference in the Élysée Palace the same afternoon and reiterated that the Spanish government would not sit down until ETA announced its irrevocable dissolution.

The CNP painted the least optimistic panorama of ETA’s intent and was backed by a Europol report made public on April 25. “It is believed that the group maintains its logistical structure and continues to operate as a clandestine organization [...] It is of concern that the most radical sectors of ETA could attempt to resume terrorist activity if their pursuit of political objectives is not met.”

In the following days the French police reported the robbery of a Renault van in Hendaye with all the hallmarks of an ETA operation and there have been incidents of kale borroka — street attacks on opposition parties by nationalist youth groups linked to the pro-independence abertzale Basque left. This led some media outlets in Spain to suggest terrorism had returned to the country.

The CNI rejected this hypothesis out of hand while the Civil Guard concurs with the government’s view that ETA is weaker than ever and has practically no resources for an attack, but that some form of action cannot be completely ruled out. This viewpoint is based on the existence among ETA’s younger membership of radicals who do not adhere to the process being undertaken by more veteran sectors, who are intent on negotiating a definitive end to violence and a political solution.

The intelligence service believes that ETA is finished and cannot carry out fresh attacks, even if it did wish to do so. Rajoy met in secret with the regional premier of the Basque Country, Iñigo Urkullu, on April 10 where the latter’s plan for the reinsertion of ETA prisoners was discussed. The prime minister has yet to make any statement on the subject.

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