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Terrorism & Security

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.

By Jonathan Adams / May 22, 2008

A member of the armed Basque group ETA has his face covered by a masked policeman as they arrive back at the house where Spanish and French authorities arrested him along with three other ETA members in a Bordeaux flat, in southwestern France. ETA was blamed for killing a policeman in a car bombing last week in a Basque village, and claimed another car bombing on Sunday near Bilbao, both a part of about 20 recent attacks since ETA called off the ceasefire when peace talks with the government failed.

Bob Edme/AP


In a setback for one of Europe's longest-running armed independence movements, the suspected chief of the Basque separatist group ETA was arrested earlier this week.

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Francisco Javier Lopez Peña, who is also known as "Thierry," was seized in a raid in Bordeaux, France, by Spanish and French police late Tuesday night. Three other ETA suspects were also captured.

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.

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