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
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
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: SAGE Bookkeeper & PA to Directors

£18000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity has ari...

Recruitment Genius: Online Sales and Customer Services Executive

£15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An On-line Sales & Customer Ser...

Recruitment Genius: Accounts Assistant - Fixed Term Contract - 6 Months

£15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the largest hospitality companies...

Recruitment Genius: Electricians - Fixed Wire Testing

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: As a result of significant cont...

Day In a Page

Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most
Katy Perry prevented from buying California convent for $14.5m after nuns sell to local businesswoman instead

No grace of God for Katy Perry as sisters act to stop her buying convent

Archdiocese sues nuns who turned down star’s $14.5m because they don’t approve of her
Ajmer: The ancient Indian metropolis chosen to be a 'smart city' where residents would just be happy to have power and running water

Residents just want water and power in a city chosen to be a ‘smart’ metropolis

The Indian Government has launched an ambitious plan to transform 100 of its crumbling cities
Michael Fassbender in 'Macbeth': The Scottish play on film, from Welles to Cheggers

Something wicked?

Films of Macbeth don’t always end well - just ask Orson Welles... and Keith Chegwin
10 best sun creams for body

10 best sun creams for body

Make sure you’re protected from head to toe in the heatwave
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon files

Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games
Women's World Cup 2015: How England's semi-final success could do wonders for both sexes

There is more than a shiny trophy to be won by England’s World Cup women

The success of the decidedly non-famous females wearing the Three Lions could do wonders for a ‘man’s game’ riddled with cynicism and greed
How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

One day to find €1.6bn

Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

Historians map out untold LGBT histories

Public are being asked to help improve the map