Suspected military chief of the Basque separatist group ETA "Txeroki" is captured in French Pyrenees.
ETA military chief captured
French authorities said today they had captured the suspected military chief of the Basque separatist group ETA, Miguel De Garikoitz Aspiazu Rubina, also known as Txeroki. The French interior minister Michele Alliot-Marie announced the arrest of Txeroki in the French Pyrenees. "Txeroki is suspected of being the perpetrator" of the murder of two Spanish police officers in southern France last December, she said in a statement.
If confirmed, the arrest would be the biggest blow to ETA since the group's presumed leader, Javier Lopez Pena, was detained in the French city of Bordeaux in May, along with three other suspected ETA members. Police arrested Txeroki at 3.30am in the town of Cauterets following a joint investigation by French and Spanish police. They also arrested a woman, who they believe is also an ETA member.
Two recently detained ETA suspects have said that Txeroki told them he had killed two officers in Capbreton on Dec 1 2007, Spanish interior minister Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba said earlier this month. One of the two suspected ETA members said he "heard Txeroki acknowledge that he was the assassin of the two policemen," the minister said. The two plain-clothed policemen, Raul Centeno, 24, and Fernando Trapero, 23, had been taking part in a surveillance operation with French police in southwestern France when they were shot outside of a cafeteria.
Press reports at the time said the two men had been part of a unit that was in the "final phase" of an operation to catch Txeroki. French police detained two suspected members of an ETA commando believed to have taken part in the attack several days later in the southern Lozere region, while a third suspect remained at large. Some Spanish media outlets had already raised the possibility that the third person who took part in the shooting was Txeroki.
ETA, which has killed more than 820 people in its 40-year campaign for an independent Basque homeland, claimed responsibility for the attack in a statement issued on Dec 17. It said it would strike Spanish security forces "wherever they may be." France has helped Spain in its clampdown on ETA after the group called off a 15-month-old ceasefire in June 2007, shattering hopes of a peace settlement, arresting a number of ETA militants.
Vasco Press said Txeroki has been the reputed head of ETA military operations for the past five years, and as such was responsible for ordering and planning its bomb attacks. Txeroki is suspected of torpedoing the peace talks by ordering the Dec 30 2006 bombing of a Madrid airport car park that killed two people. The French president Nicolas Sarkozy said the arrest of one of Europe's most hunted men "demonstrates the excellent collaboration between France and Spain in the struggle against Basque terrorism." .
Ms Alliot-Marie said "the arrest demonstrates once again the resolute engagement of the French police and gendarmes to combat all forms of terrorism." *AFP