Spain’s Basque seperatist leader, four others held in France

May 21st, 2008 - 10:46 pm ICT by admin  

Madrid, May 21 (DPA) French and Spanish police captured the political leader of the Basque separatist group (ETA) overnight, Spanish Interior Minister Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba confirmed Wednesday, saying the arrest was a major success for Spain’s anti-terrorist campaign. Francisco Javier Lopez Pena alias Thierry, 49, was held with three other ETA suspects in a flat in the south-western French city of Bordeaux. A French citizen linked with the flat was also arrested.

Spanish police later detained a sixth person, a former Basque mayor, on charges of having met several times with the four ETA suspects.

The arrest of Lopez Pena “is not just another operation,” Rubalcaba said in the Senegalese capital Dakar. He described Lopez Pena as being probably “the person with the most political and military weight” within ETA.

The arrests forced the minister to interrupt his African tour and to return to Madrid.

According to the minister, the police broke into the Bordeaux flat when the ETA suspects were holding a meeting, reportedly to plan attacks.

The four carried pistols, but did not resist arrest. They covered their heads and shouted pro-ETA slogans on being taken to police vehicles.

Police seized munition, a small quantity of explosives as well as abundant documents and computer materials. The suspects were taken back to the flat Wednesday for a more thorough house search.

Meanwhile in Spain, Jose Antonio Barandiaran Ezama was held in the Basque town of Andoain, where he was mayor from 1999 to 2003 for the Basque separatist party Euskal Herritarrok (EH), currently banned under the name of Batasuna.

Spanish prosecutors requested the extradition of Lopez Pena and the three others from France.

Lopez Pena is held partly responsible for the failure of Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero’s attempt at a peace process with ETA in 2006, and is believed to have ordered the group’s main attacks since then.

He is believed to have joined ETA in 1980. After serving a prison sentence for extortion, he became responsible for ETA’s arms caches, trained terrorists, and rose to become one of ETA’s top leaders in recent years.

The suspects who were captured with him were Ainhoa Ozaeta Mendiondo, who was Barandiaran’s deputy mayor and announced the beginning of the ceasefire in March 2006; Igor Suberbiola, suspected of planning attacks against Spain’s tourism branch, and Jon Salaberria.

Salaberria is a former member of the Basque regional parliament for Batasuna, the political wing of ETA which was outlawed in 2003. He is suspected of helping to finance ETA through a network of separatist bars in the Basque region.

The arrests followed a months-long joint French-Spanish investigation, which gathered speed after the car bombing that killed Pinuel in the Basque town of Legutiano.

The French government welcomed the arrests, with Interior Minister Michele Alliot-Marie praising the “good cooperation of the Spanish and French security forces.”

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