Businessman shot dead in suspected ETA attack

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The head of a company involved in the construction of a high-speed rail network was gunned down Wednesday afternoon by suspected ETA separatists.

4 December 2008

AZPEITIA – Suspected ETA separatists shot dead a businessman in Spain's Basque region Wednesday, the first attack linked to the group since the arrest of its military chief in November, security sources said.

Emergency services identified the victim as Ignacio Uria Mendizabal, 71, a father of five and the head of a company, Altuna y Uria, involved in the construction of a high-speed rail network in the region - a project opposed by ETA.

This year ETA has carried out three bomb attacks against companies working on the project, but without causing casualties.

Police said Mendizabal was gunned down at around 1:00 pm (1200 GMT) in the car park of a restaurant in the Basque town of Azpeitia, near the coastal city of San Sebastian.

Spanish news media said he was shot once in the head and once in the chest by two or three assailants who then fled. Emergency services said he died about an hour later as medics at the scene tried to revive him.

"Everything seems to point to ETA," an anti-terrorist source said.

Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero condemned the "cowardly" attack and warned "the terrorist group ETA will never impose its violent solutions on us".

He also postponed a visit he was to make to Bilbao, the Basque Country's economic capital, where he was to meet with businessmen and trade union leaders on Thursday.

If confirmed as the work of the separatist group, the shooting would be its first such attack since the 17 November arrest in France of the suspected military chief of the organisation, Garikoitz Aspiazu, alias Txeroki.

Spanish security forces were placed on maximum alert for a revenge attack by ETA following the arrest.

It would also be the first fatal shooting since a municipal councillor from Spain's ruling Socialist Party, Isaias Carrasco, was gunned down in the Basque Country two days before 9 March 2007 general elections in Spain.

ETA, considered a terrorist organisation by the European Union and the United States, is blamed for the deaths of 824 people in its 40-year campaign of bombings and shootings to carve a Basque homeland out of parts of northern Spain and southwestern France.

It called off a 15-month-old ceasefire in June last year, citing a lack of concessions on the part of the Zapatero government in their tentative peace talks.

That truce had effectively ended when ETA bombed a Madrid airport car park in December 2006, killing two Ecuadorean men who were sleeping in their cars.

Last week, a judge in Spain charged Txeroki with terrorist offences in connection with that attack.

Since officially calling off its ceasefire, the group has been responsible for five other deaths: Carrasco, a soldier and three Spanish security officers.

The high-speed rail network will link Bilbao with the Basque regional capital Vitoria and with San Sebastian near the French border. It is scheduled to be completed in 2013.

In the past, ETA has taken aim at major construction projects seen as harmful to the environment as a means of gaining support.

[AFP / Expatica]

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