Sun, Apr 12, 2009 - Page 6 News List

Suspected Basque leader arrested

LOGISTICS SPECIALIST: On the run since 2002, Ekaitz Sirvent Auzmendi had been under surveillance during his rail journey from Bordeaux in southwest France

AFP , PARIS

French police said on Friday they had detained a top member of the Basque separatist group ETA, who was carrying a Magnum handgun and false papers when arrested in Paris.

Ekaitz Sirvent Auzmendi was seized after he got off a high-speed train from Bordeaux in Paris, police said.

Auzmendi is believed to be ETA’s No. 2 on the logistics side and one of the movement’s five top leaders, Spanish media said, citing Spanish anti-terrorist sources.

On the run since 2002, Auzmendi had been under police surveillance during his rail journey from Bordeaux in southwest France. Spanish police were present during the arrest, police said.

Spain’s interior ministry said in a statement that a laptop and a large quantity of computer equipment, including USB keys and hard discs, were seized during the arrest.

Auzmendi was also carrying false French and Spanish identity papers, the statement said.

Spanish investigators believed forging documents was part of his duties for the banned separatist group, the ministry said.

The Spanish daily El Mundo said the arrest was the biggest blow to ETA’s leadership so far this year.

On Sunday, French police seized a huge cache of bomb-making materials believed to belong to ETA in the southeastern city of Grenoble, far from the Basque separatists’ usual zone of operations.

At least 300kg of ammonium nitrate and powdered aluminum — a powerful explosive — was found by chance in a rented basement lock-up in Grenoble, police said.

On March 30, a Paris court sentenced Ainhoa Garcia Montero, a Spanish woman found guilty of running a French-based cell that identified targets for ETA, to 14 years in jail.

ETA is listed as a terrorist organization by the EU and the US.

The group resumed attacks in mid-2007 after a 15-month truce following a deadlock in peace talks with Madrid. Since then, it has staged about 30 attacks and killed six people in Spain.

It has been blamed for 825 deaths in its 40-year struggle for an independent Basque homeland on territory straddling the Franco-Spanish border in the western Pyrenees.

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