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Terrorism by the Numbers in Spain

The only agreement about the ETA body count in Spain is that it is long and grim.

by
Robert Latona

Bio

December 17, 2011 - 12:58 am
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Five of the nine people killed at the Civil Guard installation in Vic were also children. One bizarre variation on the theme of parents and children involves a father and son who were both killed by ETA – but over an eight-year interval. In November 1978, Supreme Court Justice José Francisco Mateu Cánoves was gunned down. His son, who had been studying at the Spanish equivalent of West Point, petitioned King Juan Carlos to be relieved of his Army commission so he could enlist in the Civil Guard and contribute personally to bringing the killers to justice. The request was granted. But in 1986, Ignacio Mateu Istúriz, by then a lieutenant, was killed along with his partner when a bomb went off under their vehicle.

ETA metes out death to the lordly and lowly alike. Its most famous hit was Admiral Luis Carrero Blanco, the head of Spain’s government during Franco’s rickety final years and the old dictator’s heir apparent. José Maria Aznar was two times lucky. He was still leader of the opposition in April 1996 when a huge blast in Madrid flipped his car, but its 2,300 pounds of armor allowed him to emerge from the Audi unscathed. Not so lucky was the 79-year-old lady crushed to death when the explosion that targeted Aznar collapsed the two-story building that was her home.

In 2001, with Aznar in his second term, ETA apparently tried again with Russian SAM-7 missiles, but according to a captured terrorist, on three separate occasions when Aznar’s plane was in range, the shoulder-launched weapon failed to ignite. A few months later, the terrorists had King Juan Carlos in the crosshairs of a sniper’s rifle trained on the royal yacht when it was berthed on the island of Mallorca. Why didn’t they just shoot? Because islands can be sealed off with relative ease, and the killers hadn’t had time to work out an escape plan.

Estanislao Galíndez Llano would probably not be anyone’s idea of a high-profile terrorist target. He was the mailman of the town of Amurrio and was making his rounds on a bicycle in June 1985 when gunmen left him dead in a ditch next to the spilled contents of his leather bag. So why? It may have to do with the fact that four years before, the terrorists had murdered his brother, Felix, and he refused to observe the unwritten law of silence. Poor fool couldn’t keep his mouth shut, so ETA shut it for him.

Carlos Arguimberri Elorriaga drove the bus in Itziar Deva, a town with a population of under 3000. Patricia Llanillo was a housewife. Lorenzo Mendizábal Iturrarte was riddled with bullets while serving customers from behind the counter of the family-owned meat market. What did any of them do to “deserve” a death like that? A further 41 victims were business executives murdered because they either refused to pay protection money or because the ransom was late in arriving or because someone accused them of “exploiting the workers.”

The authors of a book called Vidas Rotas have arrived at a total of 858 victims (857 in earlier editions), which seems a reasonable approximation. They break that down into 59 women and 799 men, without differentiating by age. Of those 858, at least 361 were civilians, but once again, the distinction is shrouded in haze. How should one classify prison employees for example — not just guards and warders but an accountant (Jose Antonio Ortega Lara, kidnapped, buried alive for 532 days in an 8×10 ft. underground cell) or a psychologist (Francisco Javier Gómez Elósegui)? Ramón Díaz García was blown apart because he was employed as a mess cook for the Spanish Navy. Domingo Puente made a living trimming hair at an Air Force base in the southern city of Granada. That made them “collaborators with the forces of occupation.” Fish in a barrel is more like it.

Fewer than 10% of ETA’s victims were killed when Spain was still under the Franco dictatorship. All the remaining 800 plus were assassinated when the country  was up and running as a modern democracy. The year ETA caused the greatest number of fatalities was 1980, in which 98 people lost their lives. The only day on the calendar that  ETA has not splattered with blood is, for some reason, November 10.

Though not individually targeted, a handful of foreigners have also made ETA’s victim list. There might be even more had ETA been more successful in its attempts to bomb tourist-packed hotels in the southern resort cities of Fuengirola and Marbella in 2002, coinciding with a European Union summit in Seville. Although only six people were injured, that time the aim was clearly to splatter Spain’s international prestige with the blood of dead foreigners, unlike the dozens of bombings targeting the country’s  tourism sector and that were intended to scare visitors away.

Eugene K. Brown was no tourist; he had come to Madrid in September 1985 for a three-day corporate strategy session with other senior executives of the American multinational Johnson & Johnson. A few hours before he was supposed to board a plane and return to his family in New Jersey, Gene Brown got up early to do some jogging near his hotel on Madrid’s upscale Serrano street — just where ETA had a  car bomb primed and waiting for a van full of Civil Guards.

Dorothy Fertig, a 20-year-old  Danish backpacker, was traveling in Spain with another girl on July 29, 1979, the day of ETA’s “hat trick” in which huge bombs were detonated at Barajas airport and the capital’s principal rail terminals, Atocha and Chamartin. The blast wave from the Charmartin explosion decapitated Dorothy instantly: an eyewitness described seeing the girl’s head go bouncing and skidding across the concourse, trailing blonde hair.

Four Portuguese citizens also appear on the list of collateral casualties, and the two men crushed to death when ETA blew up one of the parking ramps at Barajas airport in 2006 were immigrants from Ecuador. The terror group’s last, or if you prefer, most recent victim was also foreign, a gendarme killed in a March 2010 shootout during a botched car hijacking near Paris.

You want more victims? How about some of ETA’s own? You heard right: the terrorist organization is demanding that the Spanish government pay them compensation for 473 of their martyred militants. To the surprise of no one and the chagrin of many in Spain’s Socialist party, their list is headed by the 18 militants or facilitators who were murdered — along with nine innocent bystanders  — by an inept death squad formed by moronic mercenaries and hit men for hire that were recruited, controlled, and paid off by high-level officials of the Socialist government that ran Spain in the 1980s. It also wants blood money for the two other low-level ETA members killed by a rogue Civil Guard unit around that same time. (Other right-wing terror groups active during that period murdered a total of 66 people, but it is not clear how many, if indeed any, had some sort of relation to ETA).

But before succumbing to the suasion of moral equivalence, you should  know that ETA’s victims list also include five members who were murdered by their own comrades as alleged traitors, informants, or apostates. “Pertur,” once a senior ideologue, was accused of taking the platitudes of Marxism too seriously and of arguing that Franco’s death signified their struggle was over. His body was never found but ETA insists he was made to “disappear” by the security services. The death of Domingo Iturbe, who showed an untimely willingness to compromise in 1998 negotiations with the Spanish government, has never been convincingly accounted for. One version maintains that he fell off the roof while fixing a TV antenna in Algiers. ETA insists he was murdered.

ETA also wants to get paid off for the 40 members who “tragically” died when handling the explosives they were attempting to kill hundreds of others with, not to mention the 200 or so killed in armed showdowns with the Spanish security forces. They are also demanding compensation for a lawyer on the ETA payroll who drowned while swimming off the Cape Verde islands, where the French government, under Mitterrand, used to deport terrorists it was loathe to extradite to Spain.

Another ETA member living the sweet life in Cape Verde died in 2008 in a mugging that netted his killer all of three dollars. It seems a cheap price to pay to know that kismet caught up with a terrorist that had seven murders to answer for in Spain. At least 22 of the names on ETA’s own victim roster committed suicide; usually while in prison, though one killer named Félix Ramón Gil Ostoaga grew melancholic while doing 13 years of hard time, and  turned a shotgun on himself a few weeks after his release.

Are they victims, too? ETA certainly thinks so, and I suppose it ultimately depends on who’s doing the counting. But of course, none of this is really about numbers.

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Robert Latona is a U.S. journalist based in Madrid who has written about Spanish politics, cultural affairs, and the arts scene for print and web venues.
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