Mallorca Terror Attack Spanish Police Hunt Suspects

Following the bomb attack on the Spanish resort island of Mallorca on Thursday, Spain is on high alert, while police focus their search on two to three young people. The islanders, meanwhile, are crossing their fingers that Thursday's terrorist attack won't drive vacationers away.

By Frank Feldmeier in Palma de Mallorca


It couldn't have hit Mallorca at a worse moment. On Thursday, a bomb in the Palmanova beach resort area in the southwestern part of the Spanish resort island killed two Civil Guard police officers and injured several people, though none seriously. Now many of the over 200,000 tourists vacationing on the island are worried about their safety, while hotels and businesses fret about what could be major losses.

The attack has put security forces throughout Spain on high alert and ratcheted up an economic crisis that has already been fometing for months.

In the first four months of 2009, 10 percent fewer tourists have traveled to the Balearic Islands -- which include Mallorca, Minorca, Ibiza, Formentera and a number of smaller islands -- than did in 2008. The number of German tourists visiting the island has only experienced a slight dip. But there have been major drops for other tourist populations, including roughly 19 percent fewer from Spain and almost 17 percent fewer from Great Britain. In these times of recession, travelers are not as eager to spend money, and the newspaper headlines about swine flu do little to help the tourism industry.

Palmanova and nearby Magaluf are beach resorts that were developed during the boom times of tourism filled with giant hotels erected with little care for pleasant appearances. For years, hotel operators and business owners have complained about the low-budget tourists who come to Magaluf to party and take food from the breakfast buffet for later or split pizzas to save a buck. In the town hall of Calvià, the municipality with administrative control over the area, legislators are pushing for a fundamental transformation of the area that would include razing a number of buildings, planting more green areas and, hopefully, fostering a tourist-friendly atmosphere of a higher caliber. The same is happening in Playa de Palma, another major tourist destination just east of Palma de Mallorca, the capital city of the Balearic Islands.

No one has yet to come forward to claim responsibility for the attack. But the inhabitants of Mallorca have no doubt that the armed Basque separatist organization ETA is behind it.

Mallorca was, however, never regarded as a prime target for a terror attack. As security forces showed on Thursday as part of "Operation Cage," it's easy to blockade the island's airport and harbors, which makes it difficult for perpetrators to escape from the island. Spain's royal family is currently vacationing on the island, as it does every summer, which already led to a boost in security measures. In 1995, an attack on the king was prevented just in the nick of time when two terrorists were finally detected. As they see it, the bomb was a calculated move by the terrorists to make things hard for one of Europe's most popular tourist destination and dispel the feeling of safety on the island for a good while.

The attack also marks a setback for Spain's police in their fight against ETA terrorists. In 2006, the group ended what was supposed to be a permanent cease-fire. Since then, the police have been ruthlessly pursuing ETA members and arresting their leaders so quickly that few could hold on to the position for more than a few months. A series of successful raids against ETA in Spain and France in the early part of the year meant that Spaniards were now more worried about recession and unemployment than terrorism.

If this was an ETA attack, it would appear that the terrorists want to show that they are still capable of acting. These are most likely the acts of hotheads in the ETA leadership ranks, who have much determination but little experience and who hope that killing people will force Spain to grant their Basque homeland independence.

Thursday's bomb was preceded by one on Wednesday in the city of Burgos in northern Spain that injured more than 60 people and turned the local police barracks into a pile of smoldering ruins. Thursday's bomb in Palmanova exploded just a few days before the royal family intended to gather all its members on Mallorca, and it went off only a few kilometers away from Marivent Palace, the royal summer residence.

Police Searching for Young Man and Young Women

On Thursday evening, law enforcement officials were conducting checks in cities and towns along the coastline as well as ferries servicing the island. For example, when one ferry belonging to the Balearia line came into the harbor in Dénia on the Costa Blanca at 11:30 p.m. Thursday night, a dozen police officers were waiting for it on the pier.

The officers checked the vehicles coming off the ferry, and the roughly 200 people traveling without an automobile -- the majority of whom were Spaniards -- were kept within a gated area, where they were forced to produce two forms of official documentation and answer probing questions before being let out. There was only minor grumbling among those questioned, and the majority of them willingly submitted to the control measures.

The search is focused on two to three people, including a woman, according to information obtained by SPIEGEL ONLINE. Law enforcement officials are particularly interested in travelers between the ages of 20 and 35 traveling with only light baggage.

Police are being given photographs of a young man and a young woman, who are both known ETA terrorists matching the description of people witnessed at the scene of the crime.

Thursday's searches at Dénia produced no suspects. Similar checks will continue in port cities and towns until Monday, according to information obtained by SPIEGEL ONLINE.

Hoping for the Best

Meanwhile many involved in Mallorca's tourism industry have given up all hope of having a profitable summer season. "Even before this, we had still made only half of what we did before," says Terry Lyn, a native of Great Britain who runs an ice cream shop right on the water's edge. "Now people will write in Germany that an atomic bomb has gone off here and that Palmanova has been erased from the map." Lyn is upset about all the headlines in the tabloid press warning about swine flu and is convinced that German tourists are going to stay away. She's putting her hope in her compatriots, instead. "They're already used to IRA bombs," she says, "and if the weather continued to be bad, maybe a few more will decide to spend a long weekend down here."

Hotel operators figure they still have some reason to be optimistic. According to Aurelio Vázquez, the head of an association of hotel chains here, the attack will hurt business over the short term, particularly with all the negative headlines in the press. Still, he says, the bomb was just an "isolated case" that was, in any case, directed against the Civil Guard rather than against tourists.

Indeed, hotel operators can only hope that all guests react in the same way that the Sitter-Happels have. On Thursday, the family from near Marburg, a city in central Germany, had been planning to take a bus to Palmanova to shop at a supermarket there but had to abandon their plans when the police blocked the roads leading into the area. As Mr. Sitter-Happel puts it, they didn't let the swine flu scare them away and they won't let ETA ruin their vacation. "If you want to be 100 percent safe," he figures, "then you have to stay at home and lock the door."

With additional material from the AP

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