Spain swoops on suspected ETA bombers

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Spanish police arrested four suspected ETA bombers and seized about 200 kilogrammes (396 pounds) of explosives Tuesday in a major crackdown on the armed group, the government said.

It was the harshest blow to the Basque separatists since they declared a "permanent and general ceasefire" in January after more than four decades of bombings and shootings for a homeland independent of Spain.

Madrid vowed to pursue the security clampdown against ETA, which it holds responsible for 829 killings.

Police detained the four suspects in night raids in Vizcaya, northern Spain, after several months of investigations, Deputy Prime Minister Alfredo Perez said.

"We found an important quantity of explosives, around 200 kilogrammes, as well as various types of material to make bombs," Rubalcaba told a Madrid news conference.

Investigators were now trying to clear up a series of unsolved attacks in Vizacaya over the past years, he said.

ETA declared on January 10 a "permanent and general ceasefire" to be verified by the international community.

But Spain's Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero rejected the declaration, saying he wanted nothing less than ETA's dissolution, and the authorities have vowed to hunt down ETA members.

"The government's anti-terrorist policy has not changed, we have not budged it by a single comma because ETA has not definitively abandoned violence and until it does so police will carry on their work," Rubalcaba said.

The Spanish authorities believe they have crippled ETA's operational capacity with dozens of arrests made in cooperation with forces in other countries, particularly France.

ETA has not staged an attack on Spanish soil since August 2009.

The latest raids were born out of information obtained in the sucessive arrests in France of suspected ETA military leaders, Rubalcaba said: Miguel de Garikoitz Aspiazu Rubina, known as Txeroki, in November 2008; and Mikel Kabikoitz Karrera Sarobe, known as Ata, in May 2010.

Rubalcaba gave no further details of the latest arrests.

But Spanish media quoted anti-terrorist sources as saying the Civil Guard police had arrested two men and two women.

The four had no previous criminal record but were suspected of being part of a cell that carried out repeated bombing attacks, said Basque news service Vasco Press and the online editions of El Pais and El Mundo.

In one of the attacks in June 2009, an ETA limpet bomb instantly killed anti-terrorism police unit chief Eduardo Puelles when it exploded in his car at a car park by his home in Arrigorriaga, near Bilbao.

Spain's government refuses to negotiate with ETA, recalling the outcome of a previous attempt five years ago.

ETA had announced a ceasefire in March 2006 within the framework of negotiations with Madrid. But nine months later, it set off a bomb in the car park of Madrid's airport, killing two men.

ETA's outlawed political wing Batasuna is desperate to get back into politics in time for Basque municipal elections in May.

Basque nationalists launched a new pro-independence party on February 7, rejecting violence by any group including ETA.

But a police report obtained by the press last month said the new party was under ETA's "direct control," a finding that could lead the courts to rule it illegal.

© 2011 AFP

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