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ETA ten years on: The key moments that led to the end of the Spanish terror group

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By Euronews
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A woman walks past a public bus stop that reads in Basque: ''ETA'' on the left, and ''Basque prisoners, go home''.
A woman walks past a public bus stop that reads in Basque: ''ETA'' on the left, and ''Basque prisoners, go home''.   -   Copyright  Alvaro Barrientos/AP

Wednesday marks ten years since the Spanish terror group ETA was disbanded. Over 43 years, more than 800 people were killed in attacks by the Basque separatists, with thousands more injured.

On 20 October 2011, ETA announced in Basque newspapers it was ceasing its activities.

The socialist prime minister at the time, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, then confirmed the group had disbanded, declaring Spain “will be a democracy without terrorism, but not without memory” - meaning the victims of the group would not be forgotten.

Here are the key dates that mark the emergence and demise of ETA.

1959: ETA, or Euskadi Ta Askatasuna (Basque Homeland and Liberty), is formed

ETA was formed by dissidents from the Basque Nationalist Party on 31 July 1959, with the goal of liberating the Basque country from Spain. It started off by setting off small explosives, with little consequence, and painting political graffiti promoting independence and revolution.

1961: First major action

The group attempted, unsuccessfully, to derail a train carrying Francoist volunteers who were travelling to celebrate the anniversary of the coup of July 1936. The 1936 coup overthrew the Spanish republic and resulted in fascist dictator Francisco Franco’s rise to power.

1962: ETA organises its first assembly

At the monastery of Belloc in Bayonne, France, ETA held its first assembly, organising itself into a clandestine revolutionary group, with the goal of Basque independence from Spain.

1968: First murder victim

On 7 June a civil guard named José Pardines Arcay was killed at a road checkpoint, in Guipúzcoa, shot by Txabi Etxebarrieta - who himself was then killed in the ensuing manhunt.

On 2 August, ETA took revenge, assassinating Melitón Manzanas, the head of Guipúzcoa political-social brigade, on his doorstep. Sixteen ETA members were arrested, and six were sentenced to the death penalty. Franco commuted the death penalties, under pressure from the international community.

Leopoldo Gomez/AP
General Franco's commutation of death sentences given to six Basque extremists was top news in Spain on December 31, 1970.Leopoldo Gomez/AP

1973: The prime minister is assassinated

Luis Carrero Blanco, who was serving as Franco’s prime minister, was assassinated by ETA militants in December. One year later, the group killed 12 people and injured 80 others in an explosion in a cafe in Madrid. This attack led to the split of ETA into a military wing, and a political-military wing.

1980: ETA’s bloodiest year

The group killed nearly 100 people in 1980 - despite the country’s return to democracy five years earlier.

AP
Destroyed cars are seen after an ETA car bomb attack in Madrid, Spain, July 14, 1986, killing eight Civil Guards.AP

1983: Antiterrorist liberation groups formed

One of the most controversial aspects of the fight against ETA terror was spawned in 1983, with the launch of GAL, or Antiterrorist Liberation Groups. These were armed groups, established illegally by Spanish government officials, who were tasked with fighting ETA. Between 1983 and 1987 they killed around 28 people.

1987: Massacre in Barcelona

On 18 June ETA set off a car bomb in the parking lot of a Hipercor shopping centre in Barcelona. Twenty-one people were killed and 45 injured. On 11 December, a 250-kilo bomb exploded in front of the Civil Guard building in the city of Zaragoza, killing 11 and injuring 40.

1997: Protests against ETA’s violence

Spain was left in shock once again, following the kidnapping and murder of a counsellor in Ermua, Miguel Ángel Blanco. After kidnapping him, ETA demanded the release of prisoners. When the government refused, they shot Blanco in cold blood, on 12 July, two days after his kidnapping. Blanco was found alive, the two shots to the back of the head not killing him immediately. He died the following day in hospital. The incident led to widespread protests in the streets, calling for an end to ETA’s violence.

ALVARO BARRIENTOS/AP
A protest in Bilbao against ETA's violent tactics in 2007ALVARO BARRIENTOS/AP

2000: Former health minister assassinated

A former socialist health minister, Ernest Lluch, was killed in Barcelona. The 63-year-old had retired from political life.

2006: ETA declares, then breaks, a ceasefire

After pleas from the government of José Luís Rodríguez Zapatero for an end to the violence, ETA declared a permanent ceasefire. However, the group quickly broke it, setting off a car bomb at the parking lot at Terminal 4 of Madrid-Barajas international airport. Two people, who were sleeping in a car parked near the bomb, were killed.

2008: Leaders arrested

Zapatero ruled out any possibility of reaching a peace agreement with the terror group. On 17 November the alleged military leader of ETA, Garikoitz Aspiazu Rubina, known as 'Txeroki', was arrested in the French Pyrenees. In December, his successor was arrested by French police.

AP
A still from a 2006 video showing masked ETA membersAP

2011: ETA declares permanent ceasefire

In January the newspaper Gara published the words: "ETA has decided to declare a permanent and general ceasefire, which can be verified by the international community". On 20 October that year, ETA announced its dissolution, although some parts of the group’s structure continued for more years. Days earlier, a gathering of international leaders met in San Sebastian, calling for the group to lay down its weapons. Among them were the ex-secretary general of the UN Kofi Annan, and the leader of Sinn Fein, Gerry Adams.

In 2018 the group asked for forgiveness from its victims that had not been directly involved in the conflict, lamenting the damage caused and admitting its “direct responsibility” for the “unreasonable suffering” caused. Three hundred and forty-three of ETA’s murdered victims were civilians.

On Tuesday, in Guernica, former Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero met with prominent Basque socialist leaders such as Jesús Eguiguren - who took part in the peace negotiations - and former Basque Prime Minister Patxi López, to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the permanent ceasefire.