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European history Latin American Politics

Pan-Iberian extremists caused first terrorism victim in Spain

60 years ago, a hardly-known leftist terrorist group killed a girl in Spain and went on to hijack a Portuguese cruiser.

On June 27th, 1960 a bomb exploded in the Amara station of the northern Basque city of San Sebastian, killing a little girl named Begoña Urroz and injuring five others. For decades, this crime was attributed to the terrorist group ETA, which had been founded about a year earlier. Nearly 59 years later, a report from the Memorial Center for the Victims of Terrorism in Madrid, linked to the Spanish Ministry of the Interior, attributed Begoña’s death to a rather obscure and almost forgotten organization.

The leftist Iberian Revolutionary Liberation Directory (Directorio Revolucionario Ibérico de Liberación in Spanish and Galician language, or Directório Revolucionário Ibérico de Libertação in Portuguese, DRIL), was founded by Spaniards and Portuguese opponents of Francisco Franco (1892-1975) and Antonio de Oliveira Salazar (1889-1970). Its most relevant leaders were Xosé Velo Mosquera (1916-1972), José Fernández Vázquez (1904-1986), Abderramán Muley alias Manuel Rojas, Humberto Delgado (1906 –1965) and Henrique Galvão (1895 —1970).

By forcing immediate political change in Portugal and Spain, the ultimate goal was a federation of two sister republics on the Iberian Peninsula. Formed by anarchists, communists, republicans, Galician separatists and liberals, its lack of ideological cohesion soon led to internal conflicts, which contributed to DRIL’s fast disbandment in 1964.

The idea was born in La Habana, where three Spanish political exiles had found refuge: Velo Mosquera, Muley and Eloy Gutiérrez Menoyo (1934- 2012). After Fidel Castro’s successful revolution on January 1st 1959, Ernesto “Che” Guevara quickly provided economic and logistical support. Muley was sent back to Europe to start operations.

Having returned to the Caribbean on a fishing boat, he soon escaped to Brazil after falling out with the Argentinian revolutionary. Gutiérrez Menoyo became a staunch anti-communist and spent over 20 years in a local prison. Liberated in 1986 under pressure from Spain, he eventually went back to Cuba. The Spanish-Cuban connection even brought the CIA to the arena, which elaborated a confidential list of all persons implicated.

Their first action in February 1960 consisted in placing four bombs in Madrid, two of which were deactivated in time by local police. One of the artifacts tore DRIL member José Ramón Pérez Jurado apart. Although nobody else had been harmed, his companion Antonio Abad Donoso was sentenced to death and quickly executed on March 8th. While Justiniano Álvarez Montero first managed to get away, he later received a 30-year sentence. The fourth perpetrator Santiago Martínez Donoso escaped.

After this initial disaster, the DRIL on June 26th set a luggage car on fire on the route Barcelona-Madrid. On the 27th, bombs went off at the train station check-rooms in Barcelona, San Sebastián and Madrid. The next day, a suitcase also exploded at the Atxuri station in Bilbao. Interestingly, a statement by the DRIL claiming responsibility for all attacks, published in the Venezuelandaily El Nacional on June 29th, 1960 never drew any response from Spanish authorities.

Belgian police detained all those responsible, but the criminals were set free months later due to pressure from European socialist and communist parties. Generalissimo Franco had in vain asked for their extradition and further punishment.

Codenamed Operation Dulcinea, the Santa Maria hijacking was carried out on January 22nd, 1961 by DRIL terrorists from both countries led by Galvao and Velo Mosquera. The seizure of the Portuguese luxury cruise liner from the company Colonial de Navegação gained international attention. Duty officer Joao José do Nascimento Costa was shot dead and two other crew members were injured by bullets.

The US Navy stopped the ship on its way to Angola and forced it into the Brazilian port of Recife. After talks with the central government under President Jânio da Silva Quadros ended on February 2nd, the rebels laid down their arms and were given political asylum there. Afterwards, there were only sporadic incidents before the DRIL vanished into history in the mid-1960s.

Ultimately, its remained unknown who sent the deadly suitcase. Due to the Amnesty Law approved 1977 in Spain, which committed all terrorist attacks during Franco’s rule, Begoña’s early passing went unpunished.

P.D.: Though the tragic incident for decades was wrongly attributed to ETA, June 27th was chosen by the Spanish Parliament as a Memorial Day for the Victims of Terrorism in 2010.

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