French police arrest suspected Eta leaders

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The Independent Online

Two of the most senior figures of Eta, the outlawed Basque separatist group, were arrested yesterday following a series of raids in France.

Two of the most senior figures of Eta, the outlawed Basque separatist group, were arrested yesterday following a series of raids in France.

Mikel Albisu Iriarte, known as "Mikel Antza", who is believed to have operated as the political chief of Eta since 1993, was arrested by police in Salies de Bearn, south-west France.

Also arrested was his partner, Soledad Iparraguirre, whose alias is "Anboto", suspected of involvement in 15 murders.

Police also arrested a further 18 alleged members of the group, and seized more than 1,000kg of explosives, dozens of sub-machine guns, grenades, detonators and bullets.

The Spanish government described the raids, carried out by 140 anti-terrorist officers and local police, as a "historic" development in the continuing battle against terrorism.

Jose Antonio Alonso, the Interior Minister, said: "It's an operation of extreme importance that can be described as historic. Despite this grave blow [to Eta] ... we continue on maximum alert, and won't let our guard down one single minute." Eta has killed more than 800 people since 1968 as part of its campaign for a Basque state separate from northern Spain and south-west France.

Albisu and Iparraguirre, both 43, have been on the run since 1993, and were with their daughter when they were arrested.

Albisu was behind the prison breakout of two Eta members in 1985. Iparraguirre, the highest-ranking female member of the group, hails from a family of Eta militants and became active aged 20, after her boyfriend was killed in a police raid. Spain's Socialist government has taken a hard line against Eta since its election three days after the 11 March Madrid bombings, which were initially wrongly attributed to the group.

The raids coincided yesterday with the arrest in Spain of a truck driver in the central city of Burgos over suspected involvement in an incident last week in which bombs were attached to electricity pylons.

The group has been weakened in recent years with the arrests of hundreds of suspected members of the group by French and Spanish authorities.

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