France arrests Eta 'deputy commander'

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The Independent Online

The suspected second-in-command of the Basque separatist group Eta was arrested by French police yesterday.

Harriet Aguirre, suspected deputy to Eta's military leader Garikoitz Aspiazu, is accused of killing Spanish deputy mayor Froilan Elespe in 2001.

"[Aguirre is] accused of being the head of Eta's cells and the lieutenant - that is to say the number two," Span's Interior Minister, Jose Antonio Alonso, said. He is one of the most wanted alleged terrorists in France and Spain and has been an active Eta member since 1995, the Spanish Interior Ministry said yesterday.

Police arrested two other suspected militants and found a weapons cache, in what Mr Alonso described as "a very important operation ... against the leadership of the military structure of the terrorist organisation, the most dangerous part of the terrorist group."

One of the other two suspects arrested in the early morning raid in southern France was senior Eta member Idoia Mendizabal. He is suspected of being responsible for a 2002 car bomb attack against Eduardo Madina, the leader of a socialist youth group.

The third suspected member of the group, which has killed some 850 people in its four-decade campaign for independence, was not identified.

French anti-terrorism investigating magistrate Marie-Antoinette Houyvet ordered the arrests. The three were picked up in Arpajon-sur-Cere, in south-central France.

Police also found a "small arsenal" in the house where they had been staying, prosecutor Marc Robert said. The suspects are expected to be transferred to Paris.

The government said in May it would talk to ETA if it halted violence. The group responded with a partial ceasefire against elected politicians.