Attacks on the Press 2001: Spain

While press freedom is generally respected in Spain, CPJ has been extremely concerned about a series of violent attacks against journalists and media professionals carried out by the Basque separatist group ETA during the last several years. In 2001, ETA continued its terrorist campaign against the press, maiming Basque journalist Gorka Landaburu with a letter bomb on May 15 and gunning down newspaper executive Santiago Oleaga Elejebarrieta on May 24.

Oleaga, who was the chief financial officer of the regional daily El Diario Vasco, was shot seven times in the head, neck, and back by a lone gunman as he exited his car in a parking lot outside Matia Hospital, in the Basque port city of San Sebastian. Oleaga had driven to the hospital to undergo physical therapy for an injured shoulder. One hour after Oleaga’s murder, a car exploded within a mile of the murder scene. Police theorize that his attackers destroyed the car after using it to flee.

In July, ETA issued a public communiqué claiming responsibility for the letter bomb sent to Landaburu, which severed several of his fingers. Landaburu, who covers the Basque region for the Madrid weekly Cambio 16, was protected by armed guards at the time because of repeated threats against him. In its statement, ETA described Landaburu, whom it accused of collaborating with the Spanish government, as a “journalist-policeman.”

Oleaga, on the other hand, had not received any threats. It was unclear why ETA targeted a news executive rather than a journalist. Some analysts suggested that the very randomness of the attack was intended to maximize terror. Both attacks came immediately after regional Basque country elections in May in which the political party closest to ETA fared poorly. The results were widely interpreted as a rejection of ETA’s violent tactics. A CPJ report on the Basque conflict published just after the Oleaga murder noted that, “the [ETA] guerillas regard the Spanish media…as adjuncts of the state, and therefore, legitimate targets in its ‘liberation war.'”

While ETA attacks against the press have long fueled widespread outrage in Spain, the situation began to receive considerable international attention in 2001. The Paris-based World Association of Newspapers (WAN) visited Spain in March to express its concern directly to Spanish officials, including Prime Minister José María Aznar. In September, WAN, along with several Spanish press organizations, hosted an international conference on terrorism against the media in the Basque city of Bilbao. The conference was co-hosted by Grupo Correo, a Basque media conglomerate whose offices were bombarded with Molotov cocktails by ETA sympathizers in March.

In October, the Washington, D.C.-based International Women’s Media Foundation honored Carmen Gurruchaga Basurto, a political reporter for the Madrid daily El Mundo, with a 2001 Courage in Journalism Award for her coverage of ETA. Gurruchaga has endured a campaign of violence and intimidation in retaliation for her reporting, yet she continues to cover the terrorist group for El Mundo.

May 15

Gorka Landaburu, Cambio 16

Landaburu was severely injured after opening a letter bomb sent to his home in Zarauz, a town in the Basque region of northern Spain, near San Sebastian. While no one claimed responsibility for the attack, most observers link it to the Basque separatist group ETA.

Landaburu, a reporter for the national magazine Cambio 16 and several national television stations, was injured at 10:20 a.m., according to local and international press reports. Landaburu lost at least one finger and suffered significant wounds to his hands, face and abdomen. The bomb was reportedly packed inside a book

Landaburu’s brother directs the Basque edition of the national daily El País, and another brother is a senior official at the European Commission. In 1998, Molotov cocktails were thrown into Landaburu’s residence. Three years earlier, masked men painted pro-ETA graffiti on the house.