ETA suffers worst blow for adecade with arrest of leader
4 October 2004, MADRID- Spain hailed Monday the weekend arrest in France of 17 suspected Basque extremists, the worst blow the underground separatist ETA group has suffered for more than a decade.
4 October 2004
MADRID- Spain hailed Monday the weekend arrest in France of 17 suspected Basque extremists, the worst blow the underground separatist ETA group has suffered for more than a decade.
"The French have made it into an affair of state," Spanish Interior Minister Jose Antonio Alonso said on the Cadena Sur radio station, heaping praise on Paris.
"They have decided to fight the ETA terrorist group 100 percent," he added, attributing the success to the "excellent relations between France and Spain, both on the political and the operational levels."
But Alonso warned the country against any temptation to lower its guard in the fight against terrorism.
"Because that is decisive for the future, finally to have done with ETA."
His remarks came the day after French authorities reported the arrest of 17 people including Mikel "Antza" Albizu Iriarte, ETA's political leader and chief theoretician, and his partner, Soledad "Anboto" Iparragirre Genetxea, a suspected former military chief of the group, in the Pyrenees-Atlantiques region near the Spanish border.
Arms caches were discovered in seven locations in the region as around 140 specialist officers, including members of France's anti-terrorist brigade and intelligence services, raided properties, France's interior ministry said on Sunday.
Large amounts of explosives, documents and money were seized.
The swoop on the suspected Basque militants was the biggest setback ETA has suffered since 1992 when a raid in the village of Bidart in the same area of southwest France netted the entire leadership of the organisation, which has been fighting for an independent Basque homeland since 1959.
It was after the Bidart arrests that "Antza" became ETA's political leader.
He steered the organisation away from indiscriminate bombings of targets such as supermarkets to a more refined strategy aimed at "politico-military" targets, to use ETA's phrase.
But since he took over 120 people have been killed and unsuccessful attempts made in 1995 to assassinate King Juan Carlos and former Prime Minister Jose Luis Aznar, then leader of the political opposition.
"Antza" was ETA's negotiator in talks with the government during the 14-month truce declared by ETA in 1998.
After the Madrid train bombings this year, initially and wrongly blamed on ETA, in which 191 people died, the organisation moved to what the regional Basque government called "low intensity warfare."
Sunday's operation followed the arrest in April of ETA's logistics chief Felix Ignacio Esparza Luri and of the man responsible for coordinating the activities of ETA's three wings-- logistic, political and military – Felix Alberto Lopez de la Calle.
Police sources quoted by the Basque news agency Vasco Press say that ETA has been so badly hit that it has not yet been able to replace Luri.
Another blow came when a ban on the radical nationalist Basque party Batasuna was confirmed last year.
In Monday's statement Alonso said that operations to detain ETA activists were continuing in Spain.
Spanish officials said that a total of 21 suspected guerrillas were detained in all over the weekend, implying that four had been seized on the Spanish side of the border.
The Basque country straddles the two countries, comprising a large region of northern Spain and part of southwest France.
[Copyright EFE with Expatica]
Subject: Spanish news