Eta reeling after arrest of military commander in France

The man who is said to be Eta's top military commander was arrested in France early yesterday, in a Franco-Spanish police operation that produced eight further detentions and dealt a heavy blow to Europe's most intransigent armed separatist group.

Jurdan Martitegi, the third senior figure in the Basque organisation to be captured in five months, was arrested as he drove to a rendezvous near the southern French town of Perpignan.

Martitegi is said to have been preparing a new cadre of militants to mount terror attacks in Spain. Police seized three pistols and suspected bomb-making material. They also said they had rounded up another six suspects in the Basque country as part of the same operation.

Martitegi, 28, had gone into hiding in France to evade a Spanish arrest warrant issued in connection with several terrorist attacks in 2007, including the killing of a policeman.

Detained with him yesterday was Alex Uriarte Cuadrado, who had driven to the rendezvous from Spain, little realising that he was being tailed by Spanish police on the orders of the anti-terrorist examining magistrate, Baltasar Garzon, back in Madrid.

Spanish police crossed the Pyrenees and linked up with their French counterparts, who had been following Martitegi and another militant, Gorka Aspitarte, as they drove in a stolen vehicle with false plates to the tranquil village of Montauriol, in the foothills of the Pyrenees south-west of Perpignan. This Franco-Spanish cooperation – strengthened in 2007 to allow Spanish security forces to operate on French soil – was crucial to the operation's success, and that of previous recent police action. Three top leaders detained since November were all picked up France.

This new level of cooperation was sealed during Nicholas Sarkozy's stint as French interior minister, following decades of mutual suspicion between the two countries over how to deal with armed separatists, many of whom had found a safe haven in France. Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba, Spain's interior minister, was said to have been in constant contact with his French counterpart Michele Alliot Marie throughout Saturday.

Eta's previous military leader, Aitzol Iriondo, was arrested in France in December, just three weeks after his predecessor, Garikoitz Aspiazu, known as Txeroki, had been caught, having been tailed by police for a month. Another Eta leader, Javier Lopez Pena, was arrested last May.

All were considered hardliners opposed to Eta's nine-month ceasefire that ended with the bombing of Madrid airport in December 2006, which killed two people.

It appears Eta militants can no longer count on the cushion of local sympathy in activist circles that they may once have enjoyed. The organisation is thought to be riven with disagreements over whether to resurrect the process of dialogue with the authorities that was shattered by the 2006 airport bombing.

Mr Rubalcaba for his part was unequivocal on this: "Dialogue is in the past and the past never returns. The only question is whether Eta stops of its own volition or because we force it."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This full service social media ...

Recruitment Genius: Data Analyst - Online Marketing

£24000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers in retail'...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Residential Conveyancer

Very Competitive: Austen Lloyd: Senior Conveyancer - South West We are see...

Austen Lloyd: Residential / Commercial Property Solicitor

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: DORSET MARKET TOWN - SENIOR PROPERTY SOLICITOR...

Day In a Page

Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there