Don't Panic

Your war questions Answered

Why would anyone want to attack Spain?

Obviously, nothing justifies an attack like the one in Madrid on March 11 that killed or injured 1,600 innocents riding commuter trains. However, that doesn't mean politically motivated people with chips on their shoulders (figuratively) and explosives in their backpacks (literally) haven't formulated "justifications" in their murderous little minds.

From an American perspective, it's hard to believe that anyone would have a gripe with Spain. Picasso, Dali, Segovia and that duck-faced woman dating Tom Cruise, they're all Spanish, right? And what about tapas? Everybody loves tapas.

In fact, Spain has a long and illustrious history of enemy-making. In the 15th century, Spain established a murderous campaign of repression against Spanish Jews and Catholics whose faiths were deemed "insincere." Then, during the 16th century, Spain conquered the Aztecs and Incas and even tried unsuccessfully to invade and re-Catholicize England.

However, no one suspects that last week's bombings were the result of lingering Elizabethan or Montezuman political sympathies. Nope, the chief suspect is a more recent enemy — Euskadi Ta Azkatasuna. Call them Eta for short.

Eta is a terrorist group. It denies responsibility for the March 11 bombing, but the fact is they've bombed Madrid's train stations before. Spanish officials even say that a week or so before the bombing, they caught Eta trying to smuggle 500 kilograms of explosives into Madrid.

Eta's full name means Basque Homeland and Freedom. Its goal is to establish an independent state comprised of ethnic Basques on the Iberian peninsula's Northern coast. One big problem, though. Most of that patch of land is already an independent state. It's called Spain. The rest is part of an independent state called France. Neither Spain nor France is particularly eager to give up the land. It'd be like us granting independence to the French Quarter.

A Basque's primary distinguishing feature is his or her language. Basques speak Euskara. It's supposedly the oldest language in Western Europe. I've also read that Basques have the highest percentage of people with type-O blood — 55 percent — in Europe. If those two things don't earn you your own country, then gosh, I don't know what does anymore.

Most of Eta's violence has been directed at Spain. The group was founded in 1959 when Spain was still under the rule of fascist dictator Francisco Franco. Franco tried to rid Spain's Basque region of its essential Basqueness by banning Euskara and arresting and torturing many Basque political and cultural leaders. Eta responded with violence. In 1968 they assassinated a police chief and in 1973 they killed Franco's Prime Minister and likely successor, Admiral Blanco.

After Franco died in 1975, Spain began to transform into the liberal democracy we know, love and, if we're lucky, visit. The 1978 constitution granted broad autonomy to the Basques, but for greedy old Eta it wasn't enough. Eta wanted full independence, so it pressed on with its terror campaign. In 1979, Eta bombed two railway stations and the Madrid airport simultaneously, killing six and injuring 130.

Since 1980, Eta violence has declined sharply, thanks to both a Spanish government crackdown and the diminished support of the Eta movement by Basques who are perfectly happy to be part of Spain.

There's a chance the bombing wasn't an Eta operation, though. In fact, it might have been an al-Qaeda job.

Spanish police are said to have found a van containing detonator caps and a Koran at one of the bombed train stations. And if al-Qaeda was involved, it wouldn't be a shock. Spain's firmly on our side (i.e. against al-Qaeda) in the War On Terror. A group calling itself the Abu Hafs al-Masri Brigades claims that al-Qaeda did it, but their word is hardly definitive. The same group also claimed responsibility for last August's big power outages in the U.S. and Canada.

Contact Andisheh Nouraee at [email protected].

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