Today in terrorism: September 20, 1980

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There are terrorists groups that have their rise and fall over time. Some groups are remarkably resilient and longlasting, such as the Irish Republican Army (IRA) which is pretty close to a century old. Others are a flash in the pan such as the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA) which lasted only between 1973 and 1975 and frankly would be completely unknown had it not been for the kidnapping and bizarre transformation of Patty Hearst.

Then there is the Basque terrorist outfit ETA (Euskadi Ta Askatasuna or ‘Basque Homeland and Liberty’) which has been extant since mid-1959 and only recently dissolved. In its half century plus it has been behind many, many attacks in which close to a thousand people were killed and many more wounded.

On this day in 1980 ETA killed four members of Spain’s Guardia Civil at a bar in Markina-Ximein, a town in the traditional Basque homeland. Spanish authorities, especially law enforcement and the military, were frequent targets of ETA for a simple reason: they represented the state which ETA and other Basque nationalists saw as an obstacle in their quest for an independent land.

ETA is what I would call a ‘classic’ terrorist group, i.e. one with a narrowly stated goal (independence) and focus (the Spanish state although civilians were also killed), in a narrowly-prescribed area (the putative Basque homeland). In this they were – or are? – quite different than other terrorist entities such as Al Qaeda and Islamic State which hit wherever they can, sometimes through affiliates and sometimes through wannabes (the so-called ‘inspired’ ones).

For the most part ETA is no more, having announced several ceasefires, arms concessions and, in April 2018, a “completely dissolution of all its structures”. Of course there is no independent Basque nation, meaning that another group, or a bunch of former ETA guys, could arise and seek the same goals through violence.

This is the unfortunate lesson of terrorism: some will never give up the path of killing in the search for a goal that means so much to them.

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