Along with Northern Ireland, Spain’s Basque region was one of two European hotspots for terrorist activity – with militant operations in both places commencing towards the end of the 1960s. And just as the IRA exported its bombing campaign to mainland Britain, so ETA (Euskadi Ta Asskatasuna, translating as ‘Basque Homeland and Freedom’) mounted attacks outside the territory it sought to ‘liberate’.
In June 1987 one such attack took place in Catalonia on Avinguda Meridiana, an important Barcelona street. A powerful incendiary bomb weighing 200 kg (440 lb) was placed in the boot of a stolen Ford Sierra car. This was parked on a Friday afternoon in an underground car park beneath the Hipercor shopping center. It would be the worst of many ETA attacks, surpassing a Madrid car bomb the previous year that killed 12 and injured 50. At around 16.12 the device exploded, destroying surrounding vehicles and blowing a large hole in the floor of the hypermarket, from which an intense fireball erupted. A number of people were burned to death or asphyxiated, while others were injured – some so badly that they subsequently died in hospital.
The blame game soon began. Faced with public outrage, ETA claimed that telephone warnings had been given. Indeed they had, though that didn’t lessen responsibility for the bombing and its consequences. A lax response by the police and store management was also inexcusable. The first of three telephone warnings came an hour before the blast and police did mount a half-hearted search. Meanwhile, management decided not to dear the busy hypermarket as there had been bomb warnings that proved to be hoaxes in the past. Hipercor claimed the police should have made the evacuation decision while the authorities (surprise!) said it was the store management’s call.
When: June 19 1987
Where: Barcelona, Spain
Death toll: 21 died (15 immediately) and 45 were badly injured.
You should know: Two of the bombers were caught after three months and each sentenced to 794 years In prison, in 2003 Caride Simon – who led the three-man ETA cell that carried out the Hipercor bombing – received a 790-year prison sentence after being extradited from France, while Santi Potros was given a similar sentence for ordering the bombing.