Car Bombs: The Favorite Weapon of the ETA


For the driver, Arming Medina, it was his last meal. He had breakfast at 8:45 am, just like on any other day in the bistro. Little did he know he had but 27 minutes to live. Outside, the Spanish officer, Garcia Escudero, was waiting for his vehicle (civilian Renault). For 20 days, the 57 year old officer was the personal protection officer of Supreme Court Judge Jose Francisco Querol. The police officer and the driver picked up the judge at his apartment in the Torreaguna Street 65 shortly after nine. When the car reached the pedestrian crossing at the intersection, the driver braked and turned right onto Badajoz Street. In the moment when the car reached the second parked car on the right of the roadside (9:12 am), the judge’s vehicle was hurled 20 meters in the air by the force of an explosive device, and landed behind a waiting bus on the opposite side of the street. The three renault passengers burned in the wreck. Some days later, the bus driver died from his injuries. The intersection looked like a road after a bombing raid in Bosnia - burning car wrecks, road surfacing torn up. The rescue services had to set up a field hospital on the street. The bloody result: four people died, and 70 were hurt seriously. More than 400 apartments and vehicles were damaged.

Explosive attacks are the weapon of choice of the ETA terrorists. Last year, they committed over 21 explosive attacks.

Planning and Execution of the Bombing
The perpetrators were very familiar with the daily patterns of the judge. Every morning, he bought a newspaper in the kiosk next to his house. The driver took breakfast in the nearby Cafe Valencia at 8:45 am before he picked up the judge in front of the apartment. He then drove the judge to the court, passing by the busy intersection. The perpetrators parked the red Renault with the 25 kg explosive device the night before at the intersection. They had stolen the vehicle in a Madrid district months before.

Thanks to their surveillance, the terrorists knew that the judge would drive by shortly after nine o’clock, past the spot where the red Renault was parked. One of the terrorists ignited the explosive device at the moment when the judge’s car passed the stolen vehicle.

Location of the attempt
The busy district in which Judge Francesco lived made it easy for the perpetrators to carry out surveillance nonconspicuously. High apartment buildings provided the desired anonymity. Before the Judge’s car turned right at the intersection, the driver reduced the car’s speed in front of the pedestrian crossing. Vehicles were parked along all the streets surrounding the judge’s apartment. Due to the shops and the many residents, other vehicles are parked permanently at the road sides so that is not possible for the security services to know which cars are usually parked there and which do not belong to the shop owners and residents. The intersection can be surveyed well from all sides. A subway is in the proximity.

For the perpetrators, the intersection is the ideal place for the assassination of the judge. Here his car has to slow down (pedestrian crossing and turning right at the intersection), and is therefore a better target. This is very important because the terrorists want to detonate the explosive device manually by remote control. If a vehicle has a speed of 50 kilometers per hour, and the perpetrators activate the device a second too early, the targeted person has good chance to survive. If the vehicle has only a speed of 25 kilometers per hour, the car is still very near to the center of the explosion even if the device is triggered within seconds of delay.

The intersection can be surveyed from all sides, and therefore, the terrorists have a variety of positions from where they can see the car moment it passes along the explosive device. The subway station is at 60 meters distance from the spot of the explosion, and therefore offers a good possibility for escape. The Spanish police believe that the terrorists ignited the car bomb from there.

Characteristics of the car bombs used by the ETA
The ETA attaches its explosive devices usually in or on the vehicles. After the attack, the perpetrators destroy their escape vehicle with an explosive device to blur evidence. Often, the assassinations are carried out on heavily symbolic days like the condemnation of an arrested terrorist or the anniversary of the death of one of them.

Two variants of car bombs are used by the ETA: In a vehicle parked at the roadside, the explosive device explodes the moment the targeted victim passes by.

The daily routine of the victims are studied by the terrorists who try to recognize patterns in the victim’s habits. Sometimes during the transport of the explosive device to the site of the attack, another vehicle drives in front (like a five minute advance), in order to spot any police check points. This lead car is equipped with a radio with which the terrorists can warn the team transporting the explosive device. The car with the bomb is parked at the location, where according to the surveillance, the victim will pass.

The vehicles used for the attacks are stolen, sometimes a year before the attack. Often, the perpetrators use vehicles of French manufacture, like Renault, or in some cases, also Peugeot. Although it is unusual that terrorists steal vehicles so long before a bombing, this indicates that the ETA terrorists have a good infrastructure, including garages. In many attacks, the perpetrators use socalled "double" cars. The perpetrators steal a vehicle which corresponds to the color and type of an existing vehicle. They forge the original number plates so that the police check of the number plates will not reveal that the car has been stolen.

The explosive amount of the devices during this kind of attack is usually between 20 and 25 kilograms. The explosives used during the last bombing, dated from a theft in Brittany France. At some bombings, the perpetrators have mixed homemade explosives with commercial explosives. The vehicles are frequently parked with the explosive cargo at intersections, or in no parking zones. In the past, the terrorists have parked their explosive loaded cars at camera monitored locations (mostly at night.) They managed to get out of the car so that their faces could not be identified, although cameras were filming their activities. The only thing what can be seen on the video tape, is that the terrorists are handling something inside the vehicle (probably arming the device) before leaving the car.

The explosive device is usually ignited by remote control in this type of specific assassination. Larger quantities of explosives are used (up to a ton) in bomb attacks against facilities. The explosion is ignited by a timer. Here, the perpetrators prefer to use Renault Vans. In attacks against facilities, the terrorists sometimes transmit a bomb threat via phone.

They usually announce that the bomb will explode in half an hour, but the device always explodes earlier than announced, generally ten minutes earlier. The announcement is aimed at killing bomb disposal and police officers while they search the explosive device. The explosive devices are frequently provided with antihandling devices.

The terrorists install an explosives device inside or under the victim’s vehicle.
The perpetrators attach the explosive device on the vehicle of the victim, usually during the night and when the car is parked in front of the residence or workplace. The terrorists’ surveillance is far less intensive than during the type of bombings described earlier. The terrorists do not have to select a suitable attack site along the victim’s route. The typical amount of explosives is between one and two kilograms. The ignition is usually carried out mechanically or electrically, triggered by vibration (when the car moves.)

Up to now, the perpetrators have use three kinds of mechanisms; a pendulum system which by the movement of the vehicle swings and causes the mechanical ignition of the booby-trap, a ball which closes the electrical circuit when the car moves and ignites the bomb electrically, and three, a mercury switch at which the mercury surrounds the two metal poles of the switch and closes the electrical circuit as the vehicle moves. If the perpetrators use undervehicle bombs, the explosive device is inside a metallic container which is attacked under the car with a magnet, four suction cups, or with a special glue.

To get inside the vehicle, the terrorists have often broken the front passenger door. They place the explosive device under the seats, or on the back seat. Some victims notice the forced open front passenger door and contact the police just in time. So, the terrorists have now started to connect the explosive devices electrically with the car’s ignition, so it will detonate when the car is started. In at least one case, this new kind of device did not detonate. However, because of a defect only the blasting cap exploded, not the main charge. The woman driving the car immediately stopped. Bomb disposal officers defused the bomb.


Contributing writer/colleague P. Michel, from Germany, is the founder of Praesidia Defence, a German Security Consulting Company. Praesidia Defence provides close protection services, training of security forces, counter terrorism and bomb countermeasures consulting.
Contact info: www.praesidia-defence.com or praesidia-defence@aol.com
Tel 0049-8102-998088. Fax 0049-8102-998089.
Michel’s report also appeared in the recent issue of the IACSP Magazine.


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