GAL (paramilitary group)

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GAL (Grupos Antiterroristas de Liberación)
LeaderJosé Barrionuevo
Enrique Rodríguez Galindo
Rafael Vera
José Amedo Fouce
Ricardo García Damborenea
Julián Sancristóbal
Dates of operationOctober 15, 1983 (1983-10-15)–1987 (1987)
MotivesElimination of Euskadi Ta Askatasuna
Active regionsFrance
Notable attacksMonbar Hotel attack
Killing of Lasa and Zabala
SizeDozens of members
Memorial for Eugenio Gutiérrez Salazar, killed by GAL

GAL (an acronym for Grupos Antiterroristas de Liberación, "Antiterrorist Liberation Groups") were death squads illegally established by officials of the Spanish government to fight against ETA, the principal Basque separatist militant group. They were active from 1983 until 1987, under the Spanish Socialist Workers Party (PSOE)-led governments. At trial, it was proven that they were financed by important officials within the Spanish Ministry of the Interior. 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[edit]

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 (at least 27 dead and 26 injured) were either members of ETA or Basque nationalist activists, but some victims were not known to have links to ETA or any organization advocating for political violence at all. The GAL was active from 1983 until 1987, a period often referred to as La guerra sucia ("the Dirty War") in Spanish history.

Its main purpose was to attack ETA members and Basque nationalist targets and randomly wreak havoc in French territory in order to put pressure on the French government. Aside from the obvious nationalist rationale for its opposition to Basque separatism, the GAL did not explicitly self-ascribe a place within the left–right spectrum and many of the killers were foreign mercenaries. However, many of these mercenaries were recruited from the European far-right (including the OAS) and many of the Spanish perpetrators and organizers were active or former Francoist civil servants.[1]

GAL attacks showed from the beginning a close connection to high-ranking officials from the PSOE government and a number of police officials in the Basque Country.[1] When the whole operation came to an end, in addition to GAL operatives, a few Spanish policemen and government officials were also convicted. The scandalous revelations eventually led to prison terms. For instance, the Interior Minister, José Barrionuevo, and his associate Rafael Vera, were convicted of the kidnapping of Segundo Marey. Barrionuevo and Vera were accompanied and hugged by González on their way to prison, where they served a three-month term.[2] General Galindo and the civil governor of Gipuzkoa, Julen Elgorriaga, were found guilty of the murder of Joxe Antonio Lasa and Joxe Ignacio Zabala in October 1983 [2]. General Galindo, condemned to a 75-year prison sentence, served only 4, and was released on "mental health" grounds.

Following the assassination of Casas by the CAA, Comandos Autónomos Anticapitalistas, the PSOE officials in office prepared to assassinate a political figure regarded to be ideologically close to that Basque armed group in the person of Santi Brouard, a Herri Batasuna representative and doctor. The perpetrator, Jose Luis Morcillo, received 7.5 million pesetas for committing the crime from Rafael Masa, a high-ranking Civil Guard official who acted on the orders of Julian Sancristobal, Chief Director of Spanish State Security at the moment. However, part of the payment assigned to the attempt on Brouard's life was diverted to unknown purposes.[3][4]

Demonstration in remembrance of Joxe Antonio Lasa and Joxe Ignacio Zabala in 2008

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 ensure their silence, the PSOE government bribed the individuals firstly jailed, i.e. inspector José Amedo Fouce and Michel Domínguez; Vera came to be sentenced to one year and half in prison, with his secretary receiving a nine-month term sentence.[5]

Reports by investigative journalists from El Mundo newspaper held that Felipe González, then prime minister of Spain and leader of the PSOE, as suspect of being involved with the GAL. During several years, after hearing the defendants and scrutiny of evidence, the proceedings concluded a so-called Señor X was the chief official of the organization's hierarchy over Barrionuevo and Vera, who could not be other than Felipe Gonzalez according to the Spanish Socialist governmental cabinet of the period. However, his name was not made explicit and proceedings did not go any further. Some claim he was not brought to trial because it would discredit Spanish political institutions. Eventually, it would be confirmed by the CIA that Señor X, or commander in chief, was in fact the Spanish Prime Minister.[6] His direct involvement is further confirmed by José Manuel Villarejo, former chief official of Spanish state intelligence (CNI), who in an appearance before the Congress on 21 October 2021 referred nonchalantly to González as the creator of the paramilitary group, also stating that it was not an error and celebrating its existence and actions.[7]

The GAL was one of the main issues of the campaign during the elections of 1996 in which the PSOE was defeated by José María Aznar's People's Party (PP) for the first time. González then resigned as leader of the PSOE. With the exception of Ricardo García Damborenea,[8] PSOE leaders have never acknowledged responsibility for the GAL, or condemned their crimes. González himself has never been charged with a GAL-related offence, but he has called publicly for pardons for his former subordinates. PSOE leaders campaigned for leniency towards their former colleagues, and the Aznar government pardoned some of them.

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.[citation needed]

Chronology of attacks[edit]

  • 1983:
    • October 17: Kidnapping and assassination of alleged ETA members Joxe Lasa Arostegi and José Ignacio Zabala.[9] Their mutilated corpses were found in Alicante in 1985, but not formally identified until 1995.[9] Several Guardia Civiles were eventually sentenced for this case.
    • October 18: Kidnap attempt in Bayonne of alleged ETA leader José Mari Larretxea Goñi by four Spanish policemen.[10] The four agents were arrested by French gendarmes.
    • December 4: Kidnapping of Segundo Marey[10] 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.[10]
    • December 29: Assassination of Mikel Goikoetxea, alleged ETA leader, in Saint-Jean-de-Luz,[10] by a mercenary sharpshooter.
  • 1984:
    • February 8: Assassination of Vicente Perurena and Angel Gurmindo, alleged ETA members, in Hendaye.[11]
    • February 25: Assassination by a sharpshooter of Eugenio Gutiérrez Salazar, alleged ETA member, in Mendi.[10]
    • March 1: Assassination of railroad worker Jean Pierre Leyba in Hendaye.[10]
    • March 19: GAL mercenary Jean-Pierre Cherid dies in Biarritz,[10] when the bomb that he is planting explodes prematurely.
    • March 23: Assassination of Javier Pérez Arenaza, alleged ETA leader, in Biarritz.[10]
    • May 3: Assassination of Rafael Goikoetxea, alleged ETA member, in Baigorri. His companion Jesús Zugarramurdi is injured.[10] The same day, ETA kill the industrialist Ángel Rodríguez, who they accused of assisting the GAL.[10]
    • May 26: Kidnapping and torture of Rafael and Endika Lorenzo, members of the Anti-Nuclear Committees in Algorta (Getxo, Biscay).
    • June 15: Assassination of Tomás Pérez Revilla, alleged ETA member, by a bomb hidden in a motorcycle in Biarritz. His companion Ramón Orbe is injured.[10]
    • July 10: Bomb attack against the Consolation tavern. Three people were injured: José Oliva Gallastegi, Bonifacio García and Juan Jauregi Aurria.[10]
    • November 18: Assassination of dancer Christian Olaskoaga in Biriatou. He was not known to have connections to ETA.[10]
    • November 20: Assassination of Santiago Brouard, leader of HASI in his own medical practice in Bilbao.[10]
    • December 11: Attack on José Iradier in Hendaye, injured.[10]
  • 1985:
    • February 1: Attack on Xabier Manterola, leader of Herri Taldeak, injured.
    • February 5: Bomb attack against Christian Casteigts in Bayonne, injured. He was not known to have connections with ETA.
    • March 4: José Amantes Arnaiz and Ángel Zabaleta Mendía, are wounded in an attack on the Lagunequin bar in Bayonne.[10]
    • March 26: Assassination attempt on Ramón Basañez Jauregi, alleged ETA member, in Bayonne. He was gravely injured but survived.[10]
    • March 29: Attack on Les Pyreneés tavern in Bayonne. Benoit Pecasteing and four others, including Jean Marc Mutio and Pedro José Pikabea, were injured, Benoit fatally. Pikabea was allegedly a member of ETA.[10]
    • March 30: Assassination of photographer journalist Xabier Galdeano in Saint-Jean-de-Luz.[10]
    • June 14: Attack on the Trinkete tavern in Ciboure: Emile Weiss and Claude Doer are killed.[10] They were not known to have connections with ETA.[10]
    • June 26: Assassination of Santos Blanco González, alleged ETA member, in Bayonne.[10]
    • July 8: Juan Carlos Lacertúa is injured in an attack on the Vittor Bar in Ciboure.[10]
    • July 16: A bomb is discovered attached to the car of Fernando Eguilior in Anglet.[10] No one is injured.
    • August 2: ETA member Juan María Otaegui Elizegui, Txato, is killed in Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port.[10]
    • August 31: Assassination of Dominique Labeyrie in St. Jean de Luz.[10] He was not known to have connections with ETA.
    • September 25: Attack on the Monbar hotel in Bayonne. José Mari Etxaniz, Iñaki Asteazu Izarra, Agustín Irazustabarrena and Sabin Etxaide Ibarguren, ETA members, are killed.[12]
    • December 24: Robert Caplanne is fatally injured in Biarritz. He died on January 6. He was not known to have connections with ETA.
  • 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. While the attack was not claimed by GAL, Miguel Brecia, an individual with known links to the GAL, was convicted for the attack. The courts who found him guilty considered it to be a GAL attack.[13]
  • 1987:
    • July 24: Assassination of Juan Carlos García Goena, again unconnected with ETA. The attack was not claimed by GAL. The arrested mercenaries, who performed it, accused GAL of ordering it.

Convicted GAL members[edit]

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[edit]

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

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b [1] Archived 2018-12-18 at the Wayback Machine Twentieth-Century Spain: A History, Julián Casanova and Carlos Gil Andrés, p339
  2. ^ "Políticos condenados por su relación con el GAL pasaron menos tiempo en la cárcel que los jóvenes de Altsasu". Retrieved 2021-10-24.
  3. ^ "Morcillo confiesa que asesinó a Santi Brouard por orden de Interior". EITB Radio Televisión Pública Vasca (in Spanish). 2013-04-15. Retrieved 2021-10-24.
  4. ^ "'Yo asesiné a Santiago Brouard'". Retrieved 2021-10-24.
  5. ^ "Público". Retrieved 2021-10-24.
  6. ^ "Documentos de la CIA relatan que Felipe González acordó crear los GAL". EiTB (in Spanish). 14 June 2020. Archived from the original on 15 June 2020. Retrieved 15 June 2020.
  7. ^ "Villarejo defiende la 'guerra sucia' contra ETA: "Me hubiera gustado participar"". Retrieved 2021-10-24.
  8. ^ "Damborenea es el primero de los condenados por el "caso Marey" que ha recurrido al Constitucional". El País (in Spanish). 1998-08-14. ISSN 1134-6582. Archived from the original on 2019-04-27. Retrieved 2019-04-27.
  9. ^ a b "La Guardia Civil pensó que la muerte de Zabala y Lasa era un ajuste de cuentas". El Pais. 24 March 1995. Archived from the original on 28 November 2013. Retrieved 23 April 2013.
  10. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z "Los años del talión" (in Spanish). El Pais. 29 January 1995. Archived from the original on 28 November 2018. Retrieved 23 April 2013.
  11. ^ Dos dirigentes de ETA, asesinados en Hendaya Archived 2015-06-23 at the Wayback Machine, La Vanguardia, 9 February 1984, p4
  12. ^ "Los cuatro víctimas del atentado de Bayona pueden ser miembros de ETA militar". La Vanguardia (in Spanish). 26 September 1985. p. 15. Archived from the original on 3 September 2014. Retrieved 23 April 2013.
  13. ^ La Audencia ordena investigar a Interior por dos asesinatos del GAL Archived 2013-12-16 at the Wayback Machine, ABC (Madrid), 5 June 1999, p31