Seven suspected Eta leaders held in police raids

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The Independent Online

Spanish police detained seven suspected Eta Basque separatist leaders yesterday, seizing explosives, sub- machine-guns and a car ready for use in a bomb attack.

Mariano Rajoy, the Interior Minister, hailed the action as "the dismantling of [Eta's] network in the Basque country". The detentions follow a series of spectacular raids on Eta in recent months, the fruit of improved co-operation between national and regional police forces.

None the less, oft-repeated claims that Eta has been decapitated are usually mocked by the organisation's Hydra-like powers of regeneration.

Mr Rajoy said one of those arrested was Asier Altuna Epalde, a councillor for the pro-Eta separatist Batasuna party. Mr Rajoy said a stolen car with false plates was found in Mr Altuna's garage and police believed it was to be used in a car-bomb attack soon.

Another of those detained, Luis Marinelarena Garciandia, 25, is wanted over the death of Fernando Buesa, the region's Socialist Party leader, and his bodyguard, Jorge Diez, in a car-bomb explosion in Vitoria, the Basque capital, in February last year.

This network, based around San Sebastian, is thought to have orchestrated huge explosions in Malaga and Madrid airports during the summer and an explosion in a central Madrid car park at the weekend. That bomb, which injured 17, had been intended to explode while King Juan Carlos and Jose Maria Aznar, the Prime Minister, were watching a military parade.

Others detained yesterday included members of the radical youth group, Jarrai, widely regarded as a recruiting ground for Eta killers. Police said about 60kg of explosives, limpet bombs, sub-machine-guns and pistols were seized in eight raids by 170 officers from the National Police.

Mr Aznar rules out negotiations with Eta, mention of whose acronym is always preceded by the epithet "terrorist band" by Spanish politicians and commentators.

Ever since the 11 September attacks in America, Madrid has made strenuous efforts to include Eta on the blacklist of organisations that are the focus of the campaign against terrorism.

On Tuesday, Mr Aznar indicated he wanted to include the Batasuna party in the list of terrorist organisations and support groups that the European Union intends to compile, and whose bank accounts could be frozen Europe-wide.

This suggestion was condemned yesterday by political parties throughout the Basque region, who pointed out that Batasuna was a legal party that won up to 10 per cent of the vote in some regions and had hundreds of local councillors. It had also elected members of the European Parliament.

The government may be on surer ground by attacking Eta's financial operations. The organisation is accused of laundering huge sums via a network of publishing companies based in an unnamed Caribbean tax haven, according to La Vanguardia newspaper, published in Barcelona.

The 20-odd companies are controlled by a foundation that promotes Basque language and culture, according to a Civil Guard report for the National Court. Most were based in the Basque country, but others were in Valencia, Catalonia and Madrid, the paper said. This operation was said to be an efficient way of hiding proceeds of extortion. The publishing ventures were highly profitable, the report added.