Spain Tackles Terrorist Threat By Basques to Olympics, Expo
AS Spain approaches the opening of the Summer Olympics in Barcelona and the Expo '92 exhibit in Seville this summer, a wave of recent violence by the country's Basque separatist movements is casting a shadow over the festivities.
Terrorist acts carried out by ETA (an acronym for Basque Homeland and Freedom, a militant terrorist group seeking independence from Spain for the northern Basque region) killed 50 people last year; most of the deaths were linked to preparations for the 1992 events.
The attacks are part of an ETA campaign to force the government to negotiate before millions of visitors arrive for the Summer Games and the Seville Expo Fair.
In Seville, with three weeks to go before Expo '92 opens its doors, 3,000 additional security personnel will be deployed to ensure the safety of the 300,000 visitors expected each day. The extra security was employed after the Expo's first General Commissioner barely survived a bomb attack by ETA terrorists.
"The leaders of ETA will do anything to obtain their separatist ... goals," says Jose Maria Zuloaga, a Basque and author of several books on ETA's history. "The Expo and the Olympics are so important to Spain's reputation that they are threatening to disrupt the events to obtain concessions from the government."
But the government has refused to negotiate with the group since peace talks broke down four years ago.
"We knew there would be terrorist pressure to blackmail the state over the events of 1992," says Prime Minister Felipe Gonzalez, "and I reiterate our absolute firmness not to give in to terrorist blackmail."
Spanish police first learned of ETA's 1992 terrorist campaign when it captured the group's paramilitary commander, Jose Urruticoechea, three years ago in the Biarritz, France. A document in his apartment showed that ETA ordered its members to boycott and attempt to disrupt the 1992 events.
The memo said that the "government of Madrid is going to utilize the date to defend the unity of Spain and thus deny the right of self-determination of the Basque land and its desire to be free and independent."
On March 29 French police announced they had derailed the terrorist group's activities by capturing its top military leader, Francisco Garmendia, and nine other ETA guerrillas, near Biarritz, according to Reuters. Political analysts said the arrest of the hard-line Mr. Garmendia was a major blow to the ETA just before the opening of the two events.
Spanish Interior Minister Jose Luis Corcuera Monday said Spain would not alter security plans for the events in light of the arrests.
For 24 years the ETA has fought to set up an independent Basque state on the northern coast of Spain. The group also has a legalized political party with representatives in the Spanish and European Parliaments.
Despite the recent bombings, Olympics officials are confident they can defuse any terrorist strike. Jose Miguel Abad, president of the Olympic Organizing Committee, says he does not believe ETA will target any Olympic event. But he adds: "We have stepped up our security plan to prevent any group from disrupting the Games in any way."
The government has allocated close to $400 million for its Summer Games security plan. It has drafted 15,000 additional police officers for the two-week event to supplement 12,000 national police officers and civil guards. The largest security force in the history of an Olympic event will blanket the four main competition venues.
"It's the enormity of this security operation that stands out," says Olympic Security chief Victor Cunado. The security plan will include street patrols, reinforced airport and seaside checks, close monitoring of land borders, tight airspace control, and submarine detection to protect government and corporate VIPs who will be lodged on 10 luxury liners docked in the harbor. The operation will also share intelligence with Interpol and the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation, Mr. Cunado says.
The security measures can already be detected five months before the opening ceremony on July 25. Police helicopters hover over the Olympic stadium day and night. To enter the Olympic village, a complex of sea-front apartment buildings that will house the athletes, visitors must go through several check-points. Police patrol every street corner in this congested Mediterranean city by foot, car, or motorcycle.
"We have been planning and working on security since the Seoul Games ended in 1988," Cunado says. "Nothing has been neglected or left to chance."