Britain arrests suspect over Spanish king 'murder bid'

7th July 2011, Comments 0 comments

Armed officers arrested a suspected Basque separatist in Britain on Thursday in connection with an attempt to assassinate Spain's King Juan Carlos in Bilbao's Guggenheim museum in 1997, police said.

Eneko Gogeaskoetxea Arronategui, 44, was detained by armed police on a European arrest warrant in the university city of Cambridge, eastern England.

He appeared at City of Westminster Magistrates Court in central London, where he was refused extradition and was duly placed into custody.

The court heard he had been living for some years in Britain under an assumed name.

The judge was told that Arronategui is wanted for eight offences: membership of ETA; the attempted assassination of the king of Spain; possession of ammunition; the murder of a police officer; three counts of theft of vehicles; and forgery of public documents, namely the transferring of licence plates.

Armed Basque separatist organisation ETA is considered a terrorist group by the European Union and the United States.

The offences were alleged to have taken place on October 18, 1997.

James Stansfeld, representing the Spanish authorities, told the court: "The requested person was stopped whilst in the Guggenheim gardens filling garden window boxes with ammunition for grenade launchers.

"They were stopped by the police. To affect his escape the police officer who stopped them was shot and killed."

The court heard as he fled the scene, Arronategui hijacked three different cars.

"Those facts clearly show that this gentleman will do anything to evade capture," Stansfeld said.

Defence lawyer Katrina Orme said her client would fight extradition on potential issues of political motivation and a fair trial.

Arronategui will next appear in court on July 25, via videolink.

District Judge John Zani said there were "substantial grounds" for believing he would not voluntarily return to custody.

Searches were under way at a residential address and two business addresses in Cambridge.

In Madrid, Spanish Interior Minister Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba said despite the arrest there was no evidence of an ETA network in Britain.

"I think they just go to Britain because it is the closest country to them and at the same time it is separated by water, which psychologically makes it feel further away," he said.

The interior minister said Spain had been following the operation for months since someone gave a tip-off to Arronategui's possible presence in Cambridge.

Arronategui was believed to have held a high position in ETA in 2006 and 2007 but investigators were still looking into his exact role, the minister said.

The arrest, which came a day after ETA suspect Daniel Derguy was apprehended on terrorism charges in Cahors, southwest France, showed that members of the armed separatist group could not hide, Rubalcaba said.

"It shows two things. First, the excellent international cooperation we have with France and Britain. And second, the difficulty ETA has: wherever they go, there will always be a policeman, whatever the nationality."

ETA has been linked with a string of assassination plots on Juan Carlos, who became king in 1975.

ETA is held responsible for nearly 830 deaths in a near-42-year campaign for independence for the Basque Country of northern Spain and southwestern France.

In January, ETA announced a permanent, verifiable ceasefire. It was rejected by Spain's government for falling short of its demands for a surrender of arms and dissolution of the group.

© 2011 AFP

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