If ETA is responsible for the killing of a French gendarme on March 16 this year, it means the terrorist organisation has broken a long-standing taboo. There is an unwritten rule that its activists do not engage in armed conflict with the French police. For decades ETA has regarded France as its home base, a sanctuary that should be preserved.
However, ETA did kill two Spanish civil guards on an intelligence mission in France in December 2007. The attack, in Capbreton, south-western France, demonstrated ETA’s determination to confront Spanish police officers wherever they are.
But ETA has suffered severe setbacks on French soil. With the arrest of Ibon Gogeascoetxea in February in Normandy, ETA lost the alleged leader of its military wing, the fifth arrest of a so-called senior ETA member in the last two years. Thirty two suspected ETA activists have been arrested in France since the beginning of this year.
The ongoing joint Spanish and French anti-terrorist operation has resulted in the dismantling of an ETA logistics unit. Caches of weapons, ammunition, explosives and documents have been discovered in different villages and resorts all over France,
severely weakening the militant Basque separatist organisation and limiting its ability to operate effectively.
All the indications are that ETA has tried to switch its military bases in France to Portugal, a country which shares a long border with Spain. But here again the cooperation between the Portuguese, French and Spanish security services appears to be narrowing the noose around ETA’s neck. In February the Portuguese National Republican Guard seized 1,500 kilos of explosives in a house in Obidos north of Lisbon.
A leading member of ETA’s political wing Batasuna recently called for an end to the armed struggle. A faction of group wants to launch a legal political party to peacefully pursue independence for the Basque country.