Counter-terror by proxy

The Spanish State’s illicit war with ETA

Until relatively recently, democratic Spain has been plagued with serious campaigns of political violence. Between the end of the Francoist regime in 1975 and the announcement of a ceasefire in 2010, the Basque separatist group ETA (Euskadi (e)Ta Askatasuna, Basque Country and Freedom) unquestionably played a central part in this deadly process. In response to ETA’s increasingly violent actions, Spain adopted a determined counter-terrorist stance, establishing one of the most formidable anti-terrorist arsenals among Western democracies. Less well known were the extra-judicial strategies Spain used to eradicate ETA. In the 1980s, initiatives to reopen channels to ETA by the Spanish government were twinned with an astute strategy of enhanced police and judicial co-operation with France on the one hand and a covert campaign of assassination of ETA members on the other. Between 1983 and 1987, mercenaries adopting the pseudonym GAL (Grupos Antiterroristas de Liberación, Antiterrorist Liberation Groups) paid by the Spanish treasury and relying upon national intelligence support were at war with ETA. This establishment of unofficial counter-terrorist squads in a liberal democracy was a blatant detour from legality. More than thirty years later, the campaign of covered-up assassinations continues to grip Spain. Counter-terror by Proxy assesses the political and institutional context of the inception of Spain’s resort to covert and illegal counter-terrorist strategies, which predate the current global fight against terrorism by decades, going on to examine the wider implications of the use of such strategies in a liberal democracy.

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