Counter-terror by proxy

The Spanish State's illicit war with ETA

By Emmanuel Pierre Guittet

Counter-terror by proxy


  • eBook

Book Information

  • Format: Hardcover
  • ISBN: 978-1-5261-5882-6
  • Pages: 224
  • Publisher: Manchester University Press
  • Price: £80.00
  • Published Date: August 2021
  • BIC Category: European Politics, HISTORY / Europe / Spain & Portugal, POLITICAL SCIENCE / World / European, POLITICAL SCIENCE / Terrorism, Society & social sciences / Comparative politics, Society & social sciences / Terrorism, armed struggle, Spain
  • Series: New Approaches to Conflict Analysis


Between 1983 and 1987, mercenaries adopting the pseudonym GAL (Grupos Antiterroristas de Liberación, Antiterrorist Liberation Group) paid by the Spanish treasury and relying upon national intelligence support were at war with the Basque militant group ETA (Euskadi (e)Ta Askatasuna, Basque Country and Freedom). Over four years, their campaign of extrajudicial assassinations spanned the French-Spanish border. Nearly thirty people were killed in a campaign comprised of torture, kidnapping, bombing and the assassination of suspected ETA activists and Basque refugees.

This establishment of unofficial counterterrorist squads by a Spanish Government was a blatant detour from legality. It was also a rare case in Europe where no less than fourteen high-ranking Spanish police officers and senior government officials, including the Minister of Interior himself, were eventually arrested and condemned for counter-terrorism wrongdoings and illiberal practices. Thirty years later, this campaign of intimidation, coercion and targeted killings continues to grip Spain. The GAL affair was not only a serious example of a major departure from accepted liberal democratic constitutional principles of law and order, but also a brutal campaign that postponed by decades the possibility of a political solution for the Basque conflict.

Counter-terror by proxy uncovers why and how a democratic government in a liberal society turned to a 'dirty war' and went down the route of illegal and extrajudicial killing actions. It offers a fuller examination of the long-term implications of the use of unorthodox counter-terrorist strategies in a liberal democracy.


Foreword by Elspeth Guild
Preface and acknowledgements
List of abbreviations

1 Arch-enemy: Euskadi Ta Askatasuna
2 Continuity: Francoist legacy and transition to democracy
3 Controversy: extradition, political offence exception and the French sanctuary
4 Monstrous mimicry: actions and actors of the Anti-terrorist Liberation Groups
5 Sacrifice: code of silence, political scandal and strategies of denial
6 Symbolic violence: diplomatic embarrassment and European democratic identity
Conclusion: state-terrorism, deceptive organisation and proxy



Emmanuel-Pierre Guittet is Research Associate at Centre d'Etudes sur les Conflits, Liberté et Sécurité (Paris, France) and at University of Cambridge's Centre for the Study of Global Human Movement (Cambridge, United Kingdom)

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