Terror Reigns

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As Jose Asenjo settled into his car with his wife and 15-year-old daughter last Wednesday, the Socialist Party official from the southern city of Malaga turned the key in the ignition and heard a noise "like a small firecracker." "I thought maybe I was overreacting but decided to call the police," Asenjo later explained. Smart move. They found a 2-kg bomb fixed to the underside of the car. Only a faulty detonator had saved the lives of Asenjo, 51, and his family.

Malaga city councilor Jose Maria Martin Carpena was less fortunate. Four days earlier, Martin, 50, a member of Spain's ruling Popular Party, was shot dead in front of his wife and daughter. Police again blamed the Basque terrorist group eta. Within just one week, eta launcTerror Reigns five terrorist attacks inside and outside the Basque county. Martin was the only fatality though the toll could have been much worse had police not defused another car bomb in downtown Malaga at week's end. On Friday, police seized arms and explosives from an ETA safe house in the north.

ETA seeks independence for four Spanish provinces plus three Basque departments in France non-negotiable demands for both Madrid and Paris. Inspired by the peace process in Northern Ireland, eta declared a truce in September 1998, but, after getting no results, it returned to terror. Since calling off its cease-fire last December, it has killed six people in 13 attacks, extending a bloody record that has left more than 800 dead over the past 32 years. Spanish officials claim that it merely used the cease-fire to rearm.

The latest violence prompted anti-ETA demonstrations around the country and increased pressure on the moderate Basque National Party (PNV) to break its tenuous alliance with the separatists. Seeking to capitalize on public indignation, the government of Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar is considering early elections in the semi-autonomous region, hoping that its conservatives may replace the PNV. But that outcome might trigger even more violence from an increasingly isolated and desperate ETA.

Reported by Jane Walker/Madrid