MADRID (AP) – A member of the Basque separatist group ETA responsible for its arms and explosives caches was arrested in eastern France on Sunday, officials said.
Izaskun Lesaka, 37, and another suspected ETA member, 35-year-old Joseba Iturbide Ochoteco, were arrested in the early hours by elite French police in a hotel in Macon, France, Spain’s Interior Ministry said in a statement.
The suspects, both armed, were tracked down and arrested by a special operations tactical unit of the French National Police in close collaboration with Spanish counterparts, the ministry said.
It said Lesaka was considered one of ETA’s top three leaders and that police also seized “abundant computer equipment and a stolen car with false number plates.”
ETA is considered a terrorist organization by Spain, the U.S. and the European Union. It is blamed for the killings of more than 825 people in a campaign of bombings and shootings for an independent Basque state straddling Spain’s border with France.
The group has been decimated by waves of arrests in Spain, France and other countries over recent years, and further weakened by declining grassroots support among Basque nationalists who had tolerated its activities in exchange for working toward the goal of independence.
ETA announced a definitive cease-fire late last year, but Spain insists it must lay down its arms and dissolve before the government takes such declarations seriously.
The group also declared what it called a permanent cease-fire in 2006, but negotiations with the government went nowhere and ETA set off a car bomb at Madrid’s airport later that year, killing two people.
The ministry said Lesaka was one of three hooded ETA members present at the announcement of the October 2011 cease-fire, while Iturbide was linked to the commando unit that set off the airport car bomb.
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