Leonor and her husband had talked about the possibility of an attack and the consequences many times. On 24th May 1989, ETA murdered her husband, a National Police bomb disposal expert, Manuel Jódar. One of the ways in which Leonor has rebuilt her life has been by taking on a commitment to peace in the Basque Country through a number of groups, such as AVT and initiatives like Glencree.


Name: María Leonor Regaño Robles

Age: 66 (1946)

Profession: Dressmaker

Family status: Widow. Two children.

Place of origin: Plencia (Bizkaia).

GROUP: Relatives of victims.


- On 24th May 1989, ETA murdered her husband, a National Police bomb disposal expert, Manuel Jódar. The terrorist group placed several traps in a car bomb that Leonor Regaño’s husband and two colleagues had to make safe. When they thought they had deactivated all the bombs, another bomb exploded and hit the three officers with full force, killing them.

- Leonor and her husband had talked about the possibility of an attack and the consequences many times. In addition, Leonor knew what she was getting into when she married a policeman, since one of her brothers was also in the Civil Guard and had received threats.

- After the attack on her husband, Leanor Regaño had to bring up their children alone, but she has always had the support of her family. Regarding her, shortly after the attack, she began to suffer health problems.

- One of the ways in which Leonor has rebuilt her life has been by taking on a commitment to peace in the Basque Country through a number of groups, such as AVT and initiatives like Glencree. She is also waiting to have an interview in prison with one of the men who murdered her husband.


“Manuel was from Granada. He studied at the National Police Academy and came here with a colleague. They were planning on going to Gipuzkoa but they stopped for a few days in Bilbao and we met thanks to cousin of mine. We met in May 1976 and got married in March 1977. Later that year, my first daughter was born and, eighteen months later, my son”.

“Before my husband was killed, I knew what I had got into, because my husband belonged to the national police and he was a bomb disposal specialist. My father had been a Civil Guard, but during the Franco period and everything was quiet, because everything was different. Terrorism emerged later. I also had a brother who had been a Civil Guard and we had already started to see what terrorism was all about. My brother received threats from ETA at home, telling him to leave, saying that if he did not, they would kill one of my brothers”.

“So, I knew where I was regarding my husband and I knew that, unfortunately, we had to be careful, for safety reasons, not to tell the children that their father was in the national police. In fact, the school did not know that my husband belonged to the security forces. I usually went to the school. My husband didn’t usually go because, unfortunately, for security reasons”.

“Inside the family, there was a lot of communication between the four of us. I often talked with my husband about how things were. This is necessary in any family, and more so in one in which there is a member of the security forces in order to support my husband at all times and so that he could relax by telling me what was happening when he was at home. Thank God we had a very close family and, above all, one that was intimate”.

“In 1978, Manuel and several policemen were assigned to their places of origin. So, we spent some time in Andalusia and, when Manuel asked to return to the Basque country (even though that meant getting into harm’s way) we learned that, unwittingly, this had saved his life. We returned to Bilbao in 1981 and a few months later they arrested part of the ‘Bizkaia Commando’. Then the chief called Manuel and told him that when they arrested the commando, they had found a list with my husband’s name on it. That list said that the attack could not be carried out because he hadn’t been seen in some time and his address was unknown. The commanders told my husband not to come to my house or to that of family members. After that, we were more alert, but we never suffered any direct attacks. We simply realized that we had to follow certain rules, such as being careful with the car”.

“We were calm when we went out. It is true that shortly before the attack I had a premonition. It was an anecdote, but it was the only time in my life that I was afraid. We had gone to the dentist and stopped in the doorway to ring the bell. A young man with curly hair stopped beside us… At the time, that man made me feel uneasy because he had stopped and didn’t leave. The door opened and he walked in behind us without saying a word. Then I felt a little scared and he went up with us in the lift. He also stayed behind us, he never stood in front. In the lift, I was thinking that if anything was going to happen, let it happen… But nothing happened. He didn’t even say what floor he was going to. As we left the lift, he also came out, and I thought something would happen in that landing. We rang the bell at the dentist’s door and when the girl came out she smiled at the lad and I almost collapsed. That day, I felt that something could have happened. I also had a dream shortly after. And the attack happened soon after that. I’ve always said that God was preparing the way for me to know how to keep my feet on the ground and a cool head at the right time, and so it proved”.

“We knew that an attack could happen. In 1989 there was a truce that began in January and lasted until 8th April. We knew that this was a transitional period of peace for the security forces, but not for the terrorists because they were rearming. The last night we slept together, we were talking and my husband told me that the truce was allowing the security forces to be more relaxed but that they were rearming. He added: ‘Unfortunately, many colleagues will fall’. He corrected himself immediately, as if he had a premonition: ‘They will not fall, a lot of us will fall and lots of blood will be spilt’. Among other things, he told me he was happy because he knew that my family would help me and the children and that, therefore, we would not be alone if something happened to him. He also said he was confident because he knew that I was strong and that if I had to, I would be able to bring the children up on my own. That was the conversation we had on the last night we slept together”.

“On 24th May 1989, Manuel got up and went to work. He was on 24-hour shifts, and when the children asked me where he had gone, I would tell them he had gone to Madrid so that they would not find out that he belonged to the police force. They never saw the uniforms or his gun in the house. My husband came home in the afternoon and I was still working as a dressmaker then”.

“The farewell was phenomenal. It was a farewell that sweetened things and it was the best farewell we could have had. He told me he loved me dearly, that he was very calm and that the children and I were the most important things in his life. He said he was very happy and that he wasn’t nervous. It’s as if I were seeing him now, giving me a hug and telling me that he loved all three of us. It was the best gift he could have given me. In addition, he always called me at night when he was on duty and he called me in the morning to tell me the same and that all was calm. I always say that ETA has not been able to take away how happy my husband was and how happy we were. The next morning he was at home but had to leave early to take a colleagues place and, within hours, the attack happened”.

“Just after 6 am they planted a first decoy car. That car exploded, and the intention was to kill the him in an attempt to catch all the EOD team. Everything was recorded by the media. There was a second car that really did have a bomb and they started working on it at about half past six. The car exploded at eight thirty in the morning. The explosion was broadcast live on television while my husband was standing beside the car, with his colleagues Sánchez and Luis Hortelano. The explosion caught the three of them and cut their bodies to shreds. When it was all over, they found several traps designed to get them”.

“We never switched the TV on in the mornings because we didn’t allow the children to watch it, so I heard of the attack on my husband by my family, on the phone, when his sister called to ask what had happened. I left her on the phone talking to the children, with instructions not to tell them anything, while I went to my neighbour’s house to see if I could find out what had happened. From there, I phoned the police station in Basauri and, just by the tone of voice, I realised that something had happened. I said I was the wife of one of the EOD team, of Jodar, and that I wanted to know if there had been an attack. Nobody would tell me what had happened to my husband, but I knew there had been an attack. I insisted and they told me that Manuel had not survived”.

“They asked me not to go to the scene of the attack, because they saw that I was determined to do so. They did not want me to go because the attack had been so brutal that the bodies had disintegrated and pieces of the three men who had died were all over the place. Along with Manuel, a fellow EOD team colleague and another man, Luis Hortelano, had died. Luis Hortelano had been with Manuel when he was preparing to join the EOD team but he had then decided to join the Ertzaintza (regional police) to organise that force’s first bomb disposal team. I knew that the scene there would not be pretty and, as they said they would come and pick me up, I waited. I called my sister in law to tell her what had happened”.

“I was very cool-headed. I knew what to do and what not. The next steps, preparing the funeral chapel… My concern at first was that I had to break the news to my children aged 11 and 9. They had realised that something was happening. I tried to adapt to their minds to hurt them as little as possible. I got into a room with them and I think I said the right things; I told them there were some very nasty people and that they had decided that their father had to leave us and that God had taken him to heaven and that now we had to be strong and pray for him. I also told them we would be going through some tough times and to be calm because I was going to be with them and they would be all right. They seemed to take it well. The children stayed with a close friend of mine and they were looked after by them and their children, who were classmates. The next day I took them to the funeral, but as the years passed, there were consequences”.

“I also had to worry about my husband’s family, who were brought to Bilbao. My mother in law was in poor health and I didn’t anything to happen to her and my father in law, more or less the same. The doctors wanted to give me some pills and I refused them, because I needed a cool head, I forbade them to give me any medicine without my permission. They were surprised because my reaction was not normal, but I had already gone through all the background and I knew I had to be like this. They told me that, over time, this would take its toll, and it did”.

“It didn’t take too long to do so, tachycardia, lack of sleep … It was a gradual process. I thought the tachycardia would go off, but it got worse. The attack on my husband happened in May and, by the end of the year, I had noticed that the tachycardia was getting worse and lasted 24 hours a day. I kept calm because I knew the cause, but I went to the doctor. I had been prescribed some tranquilizers that I wasn’t taking and I found I couldn’t sleep either by day or night. I also started to have problems with my finger nails. They treated me, the problem went off for a fortnight and then something else would appear. And so on. When I had a problem in my throat, I went to see a specialist, whom I knew because he had operated on my husband, and he told me that the problem I had was that I was ‘allergic’ to Bilbao and that the best thing I could do was leave. But I didn’t want to leave. It has now been 23 years since my husband died and I hardly have any health issues. Only every once in a while”.

“There is one thing that generally happens to people who have been through the same as I have. What we do lose is the power to retain information. I used to like reading, especially novels. At the time of the attack, I would start to read and when I turned the page, I couldn’t remember what I had just read. There was no way of getting through a book. Talking to other friends and to the group of psychologists I met in a working group, I raised this issue and they told me that we had lost the capacity to retain information. Over time, I have been recovering but it’s very difficult. Something similar has happened to me with people’s names; I can remember people’s faces but not their names”.

“I always say I’ve been a extremely lucky because I’ve had a family that has always supported me. When it comes to friends, you see who are true friends and who are just acquaintances”.

“A time came when I realised my son needed to let off steam, he needed to cry and shout. One day I asked him what was wrong and he didn’t even want to let me touch him, although he had always been very loving, even after what had happened to his father. That day he said he was disgusted with me and he didn’t want me to touch him. I told him he was feeling that way for his father and he acknowledged. I shook him a little and told him he had to cry and let off steam. That was a very unpleasant day. My daughter was crying in the hallway across from the door when she saw the state her brother was in. It was one of the saddest days of my life to see my son like that. After that, he has been all right. He has even had friends from different persuasions. In the end my children did not have that type of problem with classmates”.

“My daughter was extremely affected. She had been at her father’s funeral, but had not been in mourning. As the years went by she seemed to get worse. She needed treatment and eventually the time came to show her a film with images of the attack on her father, when she was 23. She saw part of the film, which includes, for example, the funeral. Then they would ask her questions … That was the start of her recovery”.

“Each person externalises things in a different way. After 20 years, I did not think I was going to relapse. A few things combined and I realized it was not well. I have on a treatment for three years, taking antidepressant pills. I didn’t want to leave the house, talk to anyone, everything bothered me… I realized and started a treatment. Now I’m fine. It also has to do with the willpower you have to keep going. It is painful and hard. I’ve been taking in several stages and now my daughter lives in Madrid, my son lives between Madrid and Salamanca and will soon go and live with his girlfriend. These are stages that we must learn to live with”.

“I’ve never considered leaving the Basque Country. I’ve always loved writing, and one day when I was working at home I started to feel sensitive and lots of words came to my mind. I grabbed a pen and began to write a poem and dedicated it to the EOD team. I’ve always said that there is no reason for me to leave. Nobody can kick me out because this land has been watered with his blood. Wherever you go around here, the earth has absorbed their blood. This is my land and I don’t have to leave. In any case, the people who are killing, extorting and making life so difficult for so many families should leave. The only reason that I would made me leave was if I had seen my children’s lives were in danger and, fortunately, that never happened”.

“Of those responsible for the attack that killed my husband, one died in a shootout with the police. Three have been on trial and I am going to meet one of them through a programme arranged by the Government to enable victims and repentant terrorists to talk. My son did not want to have anything to do with it and my daughter didn’t either. For me, this interview is a motivating experience; I want to ask him some questions. I want to know how he feels, why he got into that and why he says that he has repented, whether he ever thinks of the suffering caused to families. I want him to answer to see if we didn’t have the right to have a family like he wants to have one… A few questions that I hope he will answer. I am not a hypocrite and I will not shake hands with him when I see him because I just couldn’t. I don’t know what I’ll do when I come out of the interview; time will tell. I’ll have to wait and see what he answers and whether I can see if he is really sorry or not”.

“His apologies will not be enough for me. However, for now I don’t want to ponder; let’s see what happens. On the other hand, I think we can do a lot regarding co-existence and that it is very difficult, even though we are taking steps in the right direction”.

“One of those steps was the so-called Glencree Experience in which I participated. When I was asked to take part in, I thought it might be something interesting. We had to contribute quite a bit because we were victims of ETA and victims from other groups and we had to listen to each other with the aim of reaching an understanding. It was very tough, because at first you have a strange feeling regarding the people opposite you. Every person participated and explained their experience. It was hard to say what we thought and then try to understand what the other people had gone through”.

“Before participating in this experience, I had a lot of questions. I wondered what I would say to these people, what I would have to hear from them, whether they would reproach me … I began to wonder whether it was worthwhile but at the same time, an inner voice was telling me to seize the opportunity”.

“The days we were together after the first contact, you realize that, even if there was a minimum point agreement, it was worth it. When the last day arrived and you saw that we were able to agree on several things, it made the tough moments worthwhile. We thought we would never be able to reach an understanding or listen to other people’s experiences, to people who support the terrorists or have family members who have belonged to ETA. We found we could keep talking, each person could contribute something and we reached some common ground. You also realize that, logically, those other victims should not have existed either. We can talk calmly and respect each other. We tried to extend this experience to more than five or ten people, to make the groups larger. I think it was a good, positive experience for all the people involved”.

“We realised that we could talk to all the people who were there. We proved that, with the necessary will, there can be co-existence in the Basque Country and each person can express what they have experienced”.