October 8, 1977: ETA assassinates mayor in Spain

On October 8 of that year ETA killed Augusto Unceta Barrenechea, mayor of Guernica, and his two bodyguards.

GUERNICA, SPAIN – It is ironic that a place known for a horrific massacre before WWII is also the scene of a terrorist act 40 years later.

Are you familiar with the mural painted by the Spanish artist Pablo Picasso in 1937 entitled Guernica? It has been called by some his ‘most famous work’ (certainly his most political statement) and commemorates the Nazi’s devastating casual ‘bombing practice’ on the Basque town of Guernica during the Spanish Civil War. The painting is highly symbolic and speaks to our species’ collective ability to kill and maim others. I recall seeing it at the Museo Reina Maria in Madrid many years ago and was transfixed by it.

A lot of dying and that’s no bull! (Photo: damian entwistle on flickr, CC BY-NC 2.0, Guernica painting (c) Estate of Pablo Picasso, 1937)

Guernica is located in traditional Basque country in northern Spain, site of an independence movement for decades. At times that movement has taken on violent overtones: the terrorist group ETA (Euskadi Ta Askatasuna – or Basque Homeland and Freedom in English) has killed hundreds over the years. Like in today’s featured attack.

On this day in 1977

ETA killed Augusto Unceta Barrenechea, mayor of Guernica, and his two bodyguards. The attack heralded an upsurge in the use of violence by ETA in subsequent years. Unceta had received notes from the group demanding he pay a ‘revolutionary tax’.

(We will) continue to attack all the tools used by the oligarchy for dominating the Basque country…democracy does not exist in the Spanish state…the country has the same military dictatorship it had while Franco lived but now it wears a smile.

From a ETA communique after the killing

Civilians slaughtered by Nazi warplanes in the run up to WWII and even more deaths. A mayor killed by a terrorist group to get their way. Poor Guernica. Let’s hope the next time it crosses our news feeds it is for something more cheerful!

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By Phil Gurski

Phil Gurski is the President and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting Ltd. Phil is a 32-year veteran of CSE and CSIS and the author of six books on terrorism.

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