Police in N.Ireland arrest suspected Basque separatist

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Police in Northern Ireland arrested a man who Spanish authorities said Friday was a suspected member of the armed Basque separatist group ETA and wanted in Spain for a number of attacks.

The suspect was detained in the centre of Belfast on Thursday, said a spokesman from the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI).

"A 40-year-old man has this evening been arrested under terrorism legislation in a joint operation between the PSNI serious crime branch and Spanish police," he said.

The Basque news agency Vasco Press said the man was detained as he was leaving an Argentine restaurant where he worked as a cook.

The Spanish interior ministry identified him as Fermin Vila Michelena and said he was the subject of three arrest warrants.

In 2001, he was part of ETA's Madrid cell which carried out four car bomb attacks, one of which killed a senior army officer and a policeman.

He then fled to France, traditionally used by as a safe rear-base for attacks on Spain, a long-time base for ETA operations, the ministry said.

In 1994, he was a candidate for the European elections for the radical Basque separatist Herri Batasuna party, which was banned in Spain in 2003 over its links to ETA.

Since December 2001 he has been on a European Union list of terrorist suspects.

His arrest follows the disappearance in Northern Ireland earlier this year of Jose Ignacio de Juana Chaos, a former senior ETA member who served more than 20 years for the killing of 25 people in 11 attacks.

For the past four decades ETA has been fighting a bloody campaign for an independent Basque homeland carved out from northern Spain and southwest France.

It is listed as a banned terrorist group by the European Union and has been held responsible for the deaths of 829 people during its on-again, off-again campaign of gun and bomb attacks on mainly Spanish targets.

But the organisation has not committed an attack in Spain since August 2009.

The Spanish government has taken a hard line against the group, arresting dozens of ETA activists, since it called officially called off a 15-month-old ceasefire in June 2007.

© 2010 AFP

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