Eta's terrorist chief captured in cottage as he plans his next plot

French police swoop on man wanted for bomb plot on King at Guggenheim

Police swooped on the leader of the armed Basque separatists Eta yesterday and arrested him at a cottage in northern France, the latest blow to a group weakened by dozens of recent arrests.

Ibon Gogeascoechea was captured just as he was giving "final orders" to high-level operatives before they entered Spain "with the worst of intentions", said the Spanish Interior Minister, Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba.

The 54-year-old Eta chief has been wanted since 1997, when he allegedly placed explosives around the Guggenheim museum in Bilbao before the inaugural visit by the Spanish King.

For an entire week, French and Spanish authorities followed Mr Gogeascoechea's movements inside a cottage rented with false documents in the small French town of Cahan, in Normandy. He had planned to leave on Sunday, when police moved in.

Police also arrested his cottage companions, Beinat Aguiagalde and Gregorio Jimenez, who were receiving a "good-bye". They are considered especially dangerous; Mr Aguiagalde is accused of killing a Basque regional politician and a businessman in 2008. and Mr Jimenez, reportedly a veteran logistics expert, is wanted in connection with a foiled attack on the former prime minister, Jose Maria Aznar.

During the raid, police found explosives, a stolen car that had been falsely registered in France, documents, computer equipment and a pair of shackles, presumably to be used in kidnappings.

Mr Gogeascoechea is the fifth significant Eta leader arrested in less than two years, thanks in part to improved co-operation between investigators in Spain, France and Portugal. In the past two months, police have arrested 32 operatives, dismantled a logistics base in Portugal and truncated plans to set up another base in Catalonia. They also confiscated 2,000kg of explosives and other equipment.

"These have been the worst two months in Eta's history," said Mr Rubalcaba. "Eta is up to its business as usual, that is, attacking seriously, and if it hasn't done so it's because of the efficiency of security forces."

Eta's latest fatal attack killed two Civil Guard officers on the island of Majorca in July. The bomb, which went off 500m from a crowded beach, also injured several civilians and caused holiday traffic chaos.

The separatist organisation has killed more than 800 people in its four-decade fight for an independent Basque homeland in northern Spain and southwestern France. It is listed as a terrorist organisation in the EU and the US. The group usually targets politicians, police and Basque businessmen.

Spain's socialist Prime Minister, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, had attempted to negotiate a peaceful dissolution of the band when it declared a "permanent ceasefire" in 2006. But talks ended nine months later after Eta planted a bomb in Madrid's Barajas airport, killing two people.

Since then, the group has become increasingly isolated politically. Court decisions have repeatedly thwarted attempts by Eta's political wing, Batasuna (and its various incarnations), to stand for elections. In a 2009 vote, the non-violent Basque Nationalist Party lost control of the regional government for the first time in three decades. Earlier this month, members of Eta's political wing reportedly called on the band to give up terror. But that doesn't mean an end to violence is expected anytime soon. As Eta's political wing loses ground, its military apparatus grows more powerful within the organisation's leadership, according to the Interior Minister. "Now the guns are the ones in charge," he said.

The Spanish Association of Terrorism Victims applauded yesterday's arrests but advised caution. "Eta continues preparing to murder," the association said in a statement. "It does not have, or has ever had, the intention of putting down its arms."

Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave crime series
Frank Lampard and his non-celebration
premier leagueManchester City vs Chelsea match report from the Etihad Stadium
premier league
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Mario Balotelli celebrates his first Liverpool goal
premier leagueLiverpool striker expressed his opinion about the 5-3 thriller with Leicester - then this happened
people'I hated him during those times'
Britain's shadow chancellor Ed Balls (L) challenges reporter Rob Merrick for the ball during the Labour Party versus the media soccer match,
peopleReporter left bleeding after tackle from shadow Chancellor in annual political football match
Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says
tvSpoiler warning: Star of George RR Martin's hit series says viewers have 'not seen the last' of him/her
Dame Vivienne Westwood has been raging pretty much all of her life
peopleMemoir extracts show iconic designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Life and Style
fashionAlexander Fury's Spring/Summer 2015 London Fashion Week roundup
Arts and Entertainment
Lauryn Hill performing at the O2 Brixton Academy last night
musicSinger was more than 90 minutes late on stage in Brixton show
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
people''Women's rights is too often synonymous with man-hating'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Head of Marketing and Communications - London - up to £80,000

£70000 - £80000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Group Head of Marketing and Communic...

Nursery Nurse

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: Level 3 Nursery Nurse required for ...

Nursery Nurse

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: L3 Nursery Nurses urgently required...

SEN Teaching Assistant

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: We have a number of schools based S...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam