Basque separatist arrested as Spain confronts region's future
The arrest of Francisco Javier Lopez Peña in France on Tuesday signals a wider crackdown against the ETA, which has waged a 40-year campaign of bombings.
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The ETA – "Euskadi ta Askatasuna," or "Basque Country and Freedom" in the Basque language – has waged a violent struggle for independence for 40 years. ETA has been labeled a terrorist organization, and Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero called the arrest "another important step in the victory of democracy against terror," reports the Associated Press.
The Washington Post reports that two more ETA suspects were captured Wednesday, signaling a broader crackdown against the underground group. While the Spanish government singled Mr. Lopez Peña out as ETA's leader, it cautioned that the group was still dangerous, reports the BBC.
Spain's Interior Minister Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba hailed the arrest. He said Mr Lopez Peña was "in all probability, the person who carried the most weight within Eta - politically and militarily".
But he emphasized that the group remained a threat.
"This is a very important operation, because it involves very important leaders, so it should have a big effect. But I insist that Eta could still cause a lot of harm," he said.
ETA had claimed credit for two recent attacks. On Monday, a car bomb ripped through Bilbao, the capital of Basque Spain, damaging several buildings. No one was injured in that attack. On May 14, a bomb attack killed one policeman and injured four others in Legutiano, also in the Basque region.
The Marxist-Leninist ETA has long struggled to create an independent Basque nation along the border between Spain and France. Its attacks have killed more than 800 people since 1968, mostly in car bombings and shootings, according to Reuters.
Britain's The Daily Telegraph reports that Thierry may have taken the reins of ETA in 2006 and was key to the group's decision to end a cease-fire announced that year and turn its back on a budding peace process.
Peña, who has used the alias Thierry and been on the run since 1983, is suspected of being the mastermind behind a series of recent attacks that began with a car bomb at Madrid international airport in December 2006 that killed two people and brought an abrupt end to a fledgling peace process.
He is believed to have taken over Eta's underground leadership in 2006 when the group was holding peace talks with the government of Mr Zapatero. According to Spanish media, Peña, 49, participated in the talks but then decided to end the ceasefire.