Spain police seek fourth suspect after record ETA arms haul

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Police in Spain are seeking a fourth man as part of an operation against the Basque separatist group ETA that has led to the country's biggest ever seizure of explosives, Interior Minister Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba said Friday.

"Three people have been detained and we are looking for another," he told a news conference following a weekly cabinet meeting.

Police detained two brothers, aged 40 and 36, on Tuesday in the northern town of Legorreta on suspicion that they belonged to an ETA commando unit called "Erreka" that has been active for years.

Two days later they detained another man in San Sebastian.

Police also seized a total of 1.6 tonnes of explosives, mostly ammonium nitrate fertilizer as part of the operation from five locations, including the home of the two brothers who were detained on Tuesday.

Rubalcaba said it was "the most significant seizure ever carried out in Spain in terms of the amount of explosives."

"What we have done is dismantle a branch of ETA logistics unit, which is based in France," he added.

ETA is blamed for the deaths of 829 people in its four-decade campaign of bombings and shootings to force the creation of an independent Basque homeland in northern Spain and southwestern France.

Traditionally, ETA used France as a safe rear-base for attacks on Spain, but in recent years the two EU allies have strengthened cross-border police cooperation and cracked down hard on the group.

The arrest of the two brothers on Tuesday came three days after a French policeman was wounded in an armed exchange in the Creuse region of southwestern France. A couple were later detained on suspicion of belonging to ETA.

ETA in January declared a "permanent and general ceasefire" but Spain's Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero rejected the declaration, saying he wanted nothing less than ETA's dissolution.

The group had already announced a "permanent ceasefire" in March 2006 within the framework of negotiations with Madrid. But nine months later, it set off a bomb in the carpark of Madrid-Barajas airport, killing two men.

© 2011 AFP

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