France holds alleged ETA boss

9th December 2003, Comments 0 comments

BAYONNE, France, Dec 9 (AFP) - A man believed to be a senior leader of Spain's banned Basque militant group ETA was among four people arrested Tuesday in a southwestern French town, law enforcement sources said.

BAYONNE, France, Dec 9 (AFP) - A man believed to be a senior leader of Spain's banned Basque militant group ETA was among four people arrested Tuesday in a southwestern French town, law enforcement sources said.

Several sources close to the swoop said Gorka Palacios Alday, 29, was grabbed along with his lieutenant and two other suspected ETA members when anti-terrorist police staged the dawn raid of a house in Lons, near the Spanish border.

Spain's Interior Minister Angel Acebes hailed the arrests, confirming Palacios was the "number one of the ETA terrorist organisation" and saying the Basque group was now largely "dismantled".

Palacios, 29, figured on lists of wanted "terrorists" in Spain, the European Union and the United States.

He is notably suspected of involvement in the murders of a Spanish colonel and a local councillor in 2000.

Spanish media described Palacios as a member of a southern military cell of ETA who had been on the run since 1997. French investigators said he was the head of ETA's military structure since 1996.

French police said a search of the property yielded several weapons.They also said all four Spaniards had been carrying fake identification papers, but that after verification it was established that two of the three other men were suspected high-ranking ETA members.

One, Inigo Vallejo Franco, 26, was believed to be Palacios's lieutenant. He has already been sentenced to 17 years in prison for an attack on a bus.The other, Jon Rubenach Roig, was allegedly in charge of training ETA recruits.

The identity of the fourth man arrested was not immediately known.The Lons raid came five days after French police recaptured the suspected chief of the ETA, Ibon "Susper" Fernandez Iradi, 32, in the nearby Landes region 11 months after he escaped a holding cell in Bayonne, on France's southwestern Atlantic coast.

ETA's armed campaign for an independent Basque homeland comprising parts of northern Spain and southwestern France has left an estimated 800 people dead over the past three decades.

On Monday, the organisation made fresh threats against Spanish security forces in a statement to a Basque radio station.

Acebes, speaking on the sidelines of a Spanish-Morocco meeting in Marrakesh Tuesday, lauded French police for their actions, saying they were the fruit of closer cooperation agreed between him and his French counterpart, Nicolas Sarkozy.

But the Spanish interior minister also warned that the arrests did not put an end to the risk of ETA attacks.

"ETA retains the ability to carry them out," he said, adding that only the detention of all ETA members would guarantee a halt to the violence.In Paris, Sarkozy boasted that "we've hit very hard".

"It was a very sweet operation, a very sweet catch," he said, explaining Acebes had already contacted him to transmit his congratulations.

 © AFP

                                                                Subject: French news

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