CORRECTED: Former ETA leader arrested in Spain over kidnapping

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Police in Spain's northern Basque region Wednesday arrested a former leader of the armed Basque separatist group ETA over the 1996 kidnapping of a prison officer, the interior ministry said.

Ignacio Gracia Arregui was detained in the town of Irun, close to the French border, the ministry said in a statement.

Arregui, 55, "a former ETA leader" is suspected of being "the leader of the group of terrorists who carried out the kidnapping" of Jose Antonio Ortega Lara in January 1996.

The prison officer was freed by police some 18 months later after what is still the longest ever ETA kidnapping.

Two other ETA members have already been convicted over the crime.

ETA, classed as a terrorist group by the European Union, is blamed for 829 deaths during a four-decade campaign of shootings and bombings for an independent Basque homeland in northern Spain and southern France.

On January 10, ETA announced a permanent, verifiable ceasefire. But Spain's government rejected the offer, demanding the group go further and disband entirely.

Considered to be severely weakened by the arrests of a number of top leaders in recent years, ETA has not carried out an attack on Spanish soil since August 2009.

The Basque news agency Vasco Press said Arregui, who is also known as "Inaki of Renteria", was formerly the head of ETA's logistics division.

He was first arrested in France in 2000 for the crime of belonging to a terrorist organisation. He was extradited to Spain in 2008 and released in April 2010.

Spanish authorities also want to question him about an ETA order to assassinate King Juan Carlos on the island of Majorca in 1995, a court spokesman said.

He said Arregui would be transferred to Madrid on Thursday to be questioned by a National Court judge.

© 2011 AFP

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