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22 January 1972: ETA releases abducted tycoon Lorenzo Zabala

Lorenzo Zabala, with his Motobic in a museum in Eibar last year.
Lorenzo Zabala, with his Motobic in a museum in Eibar last year. / SUR
  • The self-made industrialist was the first businessman to be kidnapped by the Basque terrorist organisation

Lorenzo Zabala Suinaga, creator of the Motobic moped that was popular during the 1950s and '60s, was released after being held captive for four days by Euskadi Ta Askatasuna (ETA) on 22 January 1972. A self-made industrialist with a great entrepreneurship deeply rooted in Eibar, Zabala was the first businessman to be kidnapped by the Basque terrorist organisation.

In September 1970, ETA's official line moved in favour of a workers' front policy which stressed the importance of finding democratic solutions to national oppression.

The kidnapping, which had a great social impact, took place as Zabala was on his way to the Preincontrol company, of which he was managing director. Workers at the factory that made the Motobic had been on strike because of forced redundancies and the possible closure of the company.

Zabala's car was stopped in the town of Abadiño by four terrorists, who fired several shots in the air to intimidate the business man. Eye witnesses claimed that Zabala clung to the steering wheel and began to honk the horn, but the terrorists managed to sedate him, before bundling him into a Seat 124 and making their escape. He was taken to Munguia, a town in the province of Vizcaya .

ETA claimed responsibility several hours later and, in a statement, said that they would kill Zabala if the demands of the workers were not met within five days.

Zabala's wife met with workers' representatives and members of the board the following day in order to bring the dispute to an end and secure the release of her husband. They eventually reached an agreement, which included Zabala's resignation, to end the strike. Three days later, he was freed near a pine forest on the road linking Bilbao with Vitoria.

The disorientated businessman, who had suffered a severe head injury incurred during the abduction, was picked up by a lorry driver, who took him to the authorities in the nearby town of Durango. Police blamed the kidnapping, throughout which Zabala had remained blindfolded, on the Fifth Assembly. Known as ETA Fifth, this element was aligned to the National Front's armed struggle and was the centre of gravity for the nationalist left.

Born in Eibar in 1928, Zabala was an apprentice mechanic who, in 1948, built an auxiliary engine to attach to his bicycle. He called it the LZ and it was the beginning of the Motobic.

Zabala died in Eibar at the end of last year.