By John Ward Anderson
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, May 22, 2008
PARIS, May 21 -- French and Spanish police arrested two more suspects Wednesday in a new crackdown on the Basque separatist group ETA that netted the alleged head of the organization in a raid late Tuesday in the French city of Bordeaux, officials said.
Security officials and political leaders in both countries said the arrest of Francisco Javier L¿pez Pe¿a, the alleged political and military leader of ETA, was a significant blow to the group and demonstrated the close anti-terrorism cooperation between France and Spain.
ETA has waged a bloody, 40-year campaign for an independent Basque nation along the border of France and Spain. More than 800 people have been killed in bombings and assassinations by ETA, which the European Union and the United States consider a terrorist organization.
"Francisco Javier L¿pez Pe¿a, in all probability, is the person with the greatest political and military weight in the ETA terrorist group at this time," Spanish Interior Minister Alfredo P¿rez Rubalcaba told reporters at a news conference in Senegal, where he was on an official visit.
ETA -- the initials in the Basque language stand for Basque Homeland and Liberty -- announced a "permanent" cease-fire in March 2006. Frustrated at the slow pace of negotiations with the government, the group bombed an airport parking garage in Madrid in December 2006, killing two people, and then renounced the cease-fire in June 2007.
At least four people have been killed in about 20 bombings tied to the group since then, including last week's car bombing of police barracks outside the Basque regional capital of Vitoria that killed a policeman and injured four other people.
Spanish news media reported that police believe L¿pez Pe¿a, 49, the object of an intense manhunt for about 25 years, was a key figure in the decision to end ETA's cease-fire and bomb the airport parking lot.
Police reportedly followed an ETA lawyer to the apartment in Bordeaux just before midnight Tuesday and arrested the suspects without incident. Four handguns, a computer and bombing-making material were seized, news agencies reported.
Police identified the others arrested in the raid as Ainhoa Ozaeta Mendiondo, a woman Spanish officials assert was the hooded member who read the group's March 2006 cease-fire declaration; Jon Salaberria, a former regional legislator for ETA's outlawed political wing, Batasuna; and Igor Suberbiola, a member of the group's youth movement.
Arrested Wednesday, Rubalcaba said, were Jos¿ Antonio Barandiaran, former mayor of Andoain in the Spanish Basque region, and a French national who reportedly rented the Bordeaux apartment to the suspects.