Cablegate: Subject: Spanish Elections: Major Eta Attack On

Published: Mon 1 Mar 2004 09:14 PM
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
E.O. 12958: N/A
1. Sensitive but unclassified. Please protect accordingly.
2. (U) The Guardia Civil arrested two ETA members in the
pre-dawn of February 29 on a highway about a hundred miles
east of Madrid. One of the ETA operatives was in a van
carrying over 500 kg of explosives; the other was in a
lookout car. They entered Spain from France via Huesca.
Interior Minister Acebes reports that their target was
Madrid. Police estimate that detonation of the explosives
would have left a crater 35 meters in diameter and that
anyone within 60 meters of the explosion would have been
killed. It was the second largest Spanish police
interception of explosives in the 35-year battle against ETA.
3. (SBU) As reported reftel, Police contacts had indicated to
us their concerns that ETA would attack during the election
campaign (which officially began February 27). Police
believe ETA seeks to demonstrate that it still is operational
and wants to back up its self-declared "cease-fire" for
Catalonia by striking elsewhere in Spain. Police remain on
high alert to guard against other possible attacks prior to
the March 14 general elections. The two arrested ETA
members were reportedly on their first mission. This
conforms with Spanish police analysis that ETA operational
cell members are increasingly inexperienced and prone to
4. (SBU) The February 29 arrests follow on the December 24
police pre-emption of another ETA bombing. In that instance,
two ETA members placed backpacks with 25 kg of explosives
each on a train going to Madrid from Irun (Basque region).
The explosives were timed to explode once the train arrived
at the station in Madrid. Police uncovered the bombs soon
after they were placed. Some analysts note that the averted
truck bomb and the averted bombing of the Madrid train
station indicate that ETA, as it declines, may be moving into
a phase of more indiscriminate attacks. In both occasions,
ETA sought high profile periods, Christmas Eve or the
national election campaign, for maximum publicity impact.
5. (SBU) Popular Party leader Mariano Rajoy used the
incident to demonstrate the success of the PP government's
antiterrorism strategy, which has resulted in hundreds of
arrests and the significant disruption of the ETA
organization. The core of the GOS strategy is the need to go
after the entire ETA infrastructure: financing, logistics,
political support, and recruiting and not just the
operational cells. Rajoy reiterated February 29 that
defeating ETA would be his number one priority as President
of the Government (as it has been for Aznar).
6. (U) Interior Minister Acebes used the arrests to draw
attention to the Socialists' pact with the pro-independence
ERC party in Catalonia. Acebes said that ERC leader
Carod-Rovira -- who met with ETA leaders in January -- must
be "very satisfied" that Madrid was the intended target, not
Catalonia. Socialist leader Rodriguez Zapatero, and various
media, strongly criticized Acebes and the PP for politicizing
the fight against ETA.
7. (SBU) Comment: Although foiled in this case, ETA has
demonstrated that despite the many arrests and pressures it
has suffered, it is still operational (albeit at a much lower
level than previously). Like a wounded animal, ETA appears
determined to lash out -- and would like nothing better than
to do so during the current election campaign.
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