Mon, Sep 03, 2007 - Page 6 News List

Basque separatist group fails to carry out plot

QUARTET French deputy prosecutor Jean-Michel Bourles said some 30 detonators had also been unearthed along with an explosive device packed with some 500g of pentrite

AFP , CAHORS, FRANCE

French and Spanish police on Saturday foiled a car bomb plot by Basque separatist group ETA, netting its alleged top bombmaker and three colleagues in what analysts termed a major blow for ETA.

Spanish Interior Minister Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba told reporters in Madrid the arrests in southwestern France, during which police also seized explosives and detonators, were of "enormous importance."

They were the culmination of an operation begun when three other ETA suspects were arrested on the French side of the border in July in a vehicle carrying 165kg of explosives, he said.

Rubalcaba added the suspects had played key roles in a bomb attack at Madrid's Barajas airport last December that killed two people.

"To the question `Were they preparing an attack?' the answer is yes, they were preparing a car bomb," Rubalcaba said.

The quartet arrested in the joint Spanish-French swoop on a house in the town of Cahors included Luis Ignacio Iruretagoyena, who French and Spanish officials said was ETA's chief explosives expert.

French deputy prosecutor Jean-Michel Bourles said the house in Cahors, rented by the suspects, contained a workshop capable of making bombs "able to make enormous explosions."

Bourles added some 30 detonators had also been unearthed along with an explosive device packed with some 500g of pentrite, a powerful explosive, and other bomb-making equipment, including 200kg of aluminum powder and 150 of ammonium nitrate.

He added police also seized two cars stolen in France.

Bourles warned that despite the arrests "it is evident ETA has a habit of very rapidly preparing people for this kind of mission" in their place.

Rubalcaba said it was "highly probable" Iruretagoyena fashioned the explosives used in the Madrid airport and another foiled attack in the northeastern Spanish town of Castellon last week, when ETA operatives blew up a camper van full of explosives after abducting a Spanish family on holiday in southern France.

Also arrested was Ander Mugica Andonegi.

He had been hunted since fleeing in a taxi in July when it was stopped by a police roadblock in Torreblanca, Spain, leaving behind two bags containing detonators and explosives.

A third man, identified as Ohian Barandalla Goni, was described as the second-in-charge of ETA's paramilitary wing. He was wanted for allegedly helping steal 350 firearms from a factory in southern France last October.

A woman also arrested was named as Alaitz Aramendi Jaunarena, who has been on the run for several years.

ETA is being blamed for 819 killings over a four-decade campaign for the independence of the Basque region of northern Spain and southwest France.

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