Desperate times, desperate measures

As support for the Basque separatist militant group ETA dries up, the organisation is likely to become more desperate and more violent.

Spanish authorities believe the Basque separatist militant group ETA is behind a bombing that occurred on July 30 outside a police barracks on the Spanish island of Mallorca. The J attack was the second attack in Spain in as many days – a fact that is likely to draw more attention than a single attack would. As support for ETA dwindles in the Basque autonomous region, the militant group likely will become more violent as it becomes more desperate.

Two police officers died when the small improvised explosive device (IED) detonated outside a police barracks in Palmanova, a small coastal town on Mallorca, a destination popular with European tourists. The relatively limited damage from the blast indicates that the device contained probably no more than 10 pounds of explosives and was attached to a parked police vehicle, most likely near the gas tank. A second device was later found in the same area and defused. Unconfirmed reports said that it was also placed under a police vehicle.

No one has claimed responsibility for the bombing, though authorities suspect the Basque separatist militant group, ETA, carried it out. Indeed, the targeting of police officers and the use of an IED concealed in a car matches previous ETA attacks.

Typically, ETA has not operated in Mallorca, with the noteworthy exception of the group’s 2005 plan to assassinate Spanish King Juan Carlos I there, which was disrupted by police. Although ETA has attacked tourist areas in the past (Malaga in 2002 and Madrid’s Callao Square in 2000) the July 30 attack was not specifically against a tourist target, though it was in a popular tourist area. Nonetheless, Mallorca’s tourism industry is likely to suffer as a side-effect of the bombing. The Spanish government responded to the bombing by temporarily shutting down Mallorca’s ports and airports – including the Palma de Mallorca airport, the second-busiest in Spain, which sees more than 90,000 passengers travel through each day during tourist season – to search for the attackers.

The July 30 attack was the second attack in Spain in as many days. Suspected ETA militants have clustered attacks within a two-day period twice in the past year. The attackers likely are using this tactic to maximize exposure in the press, since consecutive attacks generally garner more attention than single isolated attacks.

And garnering more attention will become more important to ETA as time passes. The demographics and political climate are changing in Basque country, and STRATFOR has noted that as support for the ETA dries up in the Basque autonomous region the militant group is likely to become more desperate and more violent. As Basque country grows more politically moderate, ETA will be left with only the most extreme members, who could very well deviate from the common ETA practices of avoiding civilians, calling attacks in ahead of time and conducting attacks in the middle of the night when casualties are less likely.

Stratfor provides intelligence services for individuals, global corporations, and divisions of the US and foreign governments around the world.

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