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Grupos Antiterroristas de Liberación (GAL, Antiterrorist Liberation Groups) were death squads established illegally by officials of the Spanish government to fight ETA, the principal Basque separatist militant group. They were active from 1983 until 1987, under Spanish Socialist Workers Party-led governments. It was proven at trial that they were financed by important officials within the Spanish Interior Ministry. The Spanish daily newspaper, El Mundo, played an important role in revealing the plot when it ran a comprehensive series of articles on the matter.

General history

GAL operated mainly in the portion of the Basque country on the French side of the Spanish-French border, but kidnappings and tortures were also performed at various places in Spain. The victims were both members and supporters of ETA, often the most militant, but some victims, apparently innocent, were not known to have links to ETA or terrorism at all. The GAL was active from 1983 until 1987, and it was the perpetrator of at least twenty-seven killings. This period is often referred to as "La guerra sucia" (the dirty war) in Spanish history.

The GAL did not have a coherent ideology. Its sole purpose was to attack ETA members and ETA-related targets. In this regard, the actual perpetrators were never militants, per se, and certainly not militants in the political sense. Rather, they were mercenaries.

When the whole operation came to its end, in addition to GAL operatives, a few Spanish policemen and government officials were also convicted. The scandalous revelations eventually led to terms in prison. For instance, the Interior Minister, José Barrionuevo, and his associate, Rafael Vera, were convicted of the kidnapping of Segundo Marey; General Galindo and the civil governor of Guipuzcoa, Julen Elgorriaga, were found guilty of the murder of Joxe Antonio Lasa and Joxe Ignacio Zabala in October 1983 [1].

Prosecutors proved that the policemen who recruited mercenaries and the government officials who organized the dirty war's operations also embezzled large amounts of public money. Rafael Vera, among others, was sentenced for illegal appropriation of funds from the Ministry. Also, in order to buy their silence, the PSOE government bribed the individuals first jailed.

Due to reports by investigative journalists from El Mundo and other Spanish newspapers, Felipe González, then President of Spain and leader of the Socialist Party (PSOE), was suspected of being involved with the GAL. Some people claimed that, although González probably knew about the GAL, he was not brought to trial because it would further discredit Spanish political institutions.

The GAL was one of the main issues of the campaign during the elections of 1996 in which the Spanish Socialist Workers' Party (PSOE) was defeated by José María Aznar's People's Party (PP) for the first time. Felipe González then resigned as leader of the PSOE. With the exception of Ricardo García Damborenea, PSOE leaders have never acknowledged responsibility for the GAL, or have condemned their crimes verbally. González himself (presumed to be 'Mr. X') has never been charged with a GAL-related offense, but he has called publicly for pardons for his former subordinates. PSOE leaders have campaigned for leniency towards their former colleagues, and the Aznar government has pardoned some Socialists.

After 1987, when the GAL disbanded, the French government adopted a harsher attitude towards Basque refugees, by denying political refugee status to new applicants, and facilitating extraditions requested by Spanish judges. This change weakened ETA's veterans. Ironically, the GAL may have ensured ETA's survival by helping to preserve the image of an authoritarian state at war with the Basque people.

Chronology of attacks

  • 1983:
    • October 17: Kidnapping and assassination of alleged ETA members Joxe Lasa Arostegi and José Ignacio Zabala. Claimed. Their mutilated corpses were found in Alicante in 1995. Several Guardia Civiles were eventually sentenced for this case, though allegations of torture were dismissed.
    • October 18: Kidnap attempt in Bayonne of alleged ETA leader José Mari Larretxea Goñi by four Spanish policemen. The four agents were arrested by French gendarmes.
    • December 4: Kidnapping of Segundo Marey by mercenaries hired by the Spanish police. They demanded the liberation of the four policemen arrested for the kidnap attempt on Larraetxea. The policemen were released on December 8 and Marey on the 13th. S. Marey was not related to ETA in any way and he was apparently kidnapped by mistake.
    • December 19: Assassination of Ramón Oñaederra, alleged ETA member, in Bayonne.
    • December 29: Assassination of Mikel Goikoetxea, alleged ETA leader, in Bayonne, by a mercenary sharpshooter.
  • 1984:
  • 1985:
  • 1986:
    • February 8: Attack on the Batxoki tavern. Karmele Martínez, Federick Haramboure and a young girl Nagore Otegui are injured.
    • February 17: Assassination of Christophe Matxikote and Catherine Brion. They had no connection with ETA. Not claimed by GAL.
  • 1987:
    • July 24: Assassination of Juan Carlos García Goena, again totally unconnected with ETA. The attack was not claimed by GAL. The arrested mercenaries, who performed it, accused GAL of ordering it.

Convicted GAL members

The actual attacks were carried by members of the Spanish Policía Nacional or, most frequently, by Portuguese or French mercenaries.

The convicted members of GAL's leadership are:

Similar groups

Members of Batasuna gave the name "Green GAL" to a group of the Guardia Civil (who wear green uniforms) based in the Intxaurrondo barracks at San Sebastián, because Batasuna allege that they would attack ETA members illegally.

See also


ast:Grupos Antiterroristes de Lliberación ca:Grups Antiterroristes d'Alliberament da:Grupos Antiterroristas de Liberación de:Grupos Antiterroristas de Liberación es:Grupos Antiterroristas de Liberación eu:GAL fr:Groupes antiterroristes de libération gl:Grupos Antiterroristas de Liberación nl:Grupos Antiterroristas de Liberación pl:Grupos Antiterroristas de Liberación pt:Grupos Antiterroristas de Libertação sv:Grupos Antiterroristas de Liberación tr:GAL

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