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Spain arrests two ETA suspects

  • Story Highlights
  • Two ETA suspects arrested Monday, Spain's Interior Ministry says
  • Officials did not immediately release their identities
  • Arrests came after joint operation between French and Spanish authorities
By Al Goodman
CNN Madrid Bureau Chief
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MADRID, Spain (CNN) -- Police in France Monday arrested the suspected chief of the political apparatus of the Basque separatist group ETA, along with another suspect, Spanish Interior Minister Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba said.

The main suspect, Aitor Elizaran Aguilar, 30, allegedly ran ETA's policy-making branch, a post that included issuing orders to radical left Basque operatives who support ETA's campaign with political action and with street violence, such as bus burnings, Rubalcaba said at a nationally televised news conference.

"It is a relevant operation," he said of the arrests on Monday.

The other part of ETA is the military wing, which carries out the attacks blamed for more than 800 deaths in ETA's long fight for Basque independence.

It marks the fifth time since May 2008 that police have announced the arrest of ETA's suspected top military or political leader. Officials have told CNN that after one leader is arrested, another ETA member quickly takes the position, but the substitutes, in succession, have also been arrested, along with dozens of ETA militants since then (May 2008).

ETA is listed as a terrorist group by Spain, the European Union and the United States. It wants a Basque homeland in northern Spain and a contiguous part of southwest France.

France has for years been ETA's rearguard operations base. The arrests Monday occurred near the town of Carnac in French Brittany, far north of the Spanish border.

The other suspect detained was a woman, Oihana San Vicente, 32, who worked in ETA's political apparatus. The suspects were armed, carried fake identification and were using a car stolen last week, Rubalcaba said.

Nine days ago, police in France arrested two of the most-wanted ETA suspects, allegedly involved in logistics. Police later found weapons and material to make car bombs, the Interior Ministry said in a statement at the time.

Last Friday, a Spanish judge charged a well-known Basque politician and seven suspected collaborators with membership in ETA.

The politician, Arnaldo Otegi, had been a leader of the Batasuna party, outlawed in 2003 for its links to ETA. He and the others were arrested last week in northern Spain for allegedly trying to regroup the leadership of the Basque left movement to "carry out ETA's orders," an Interior Ministry statement said.

The judge ordered Otegi and four others to remain in jail after closed-door hearings Friday. Three others were allowed to remain free if they each post a bail of 10,000 euros (about $14,900).

"Those charged here have no degree of independence from ETA in formulating their programs, which leads to the conclusion that their actions are directed by ETA from start to finish," the judge, Baltasar Garzon, wrote in a 55-page order that was viewed last Friday by CNN.

When ETA declared a unilateral "permanent" cease-fire in March 2006, the government began steps toward a peace process. But ETA then bombed Madrid's airport in December 2006, killing two men and causing extensive damage.

ETA in 2007 called off its cease-fire, which the government had already considered finished.

The government has said since then that the only way to end more than 40 years of violence would be for ETA to renounce its campaign and lay down its arms. Otherwise, the organization would face its demise through a police crackdown, it said.

ETA has continued its killings and bombings, including fatal attacks on the Spanish island of Majorca in August.

But police in Spain and France this year alone have arrested about 70 ETA suspects, Rubalcaba said.

ETA is an acronym for Euskadi ta Askatasuna, which means "Basque Homeland and Liberty" in the Basque language. The group was founded in 1959.

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