French police arrested the suspected leader of Basque separatist group ETA as part of joint cross-border raids, Spain's Interior Ministry said Sunday. He was among nine alleged ETA members arrested in recent days.
Jurdan Martitegi Lizaso, 28, was arrested Saturday in the small village of Montauriol in southeast France, the ministry said.
It was another blow to ETA, which has had to cope with the arrests of three of its alleged leaders in less than six months and a wave of other detentions in France and Spain in recent months.
"Martitegi has committed many unfortunately successful terror attacks," Interior Minister Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba said.
Martitegi was involved in a car bombing in September in the northern town of Santona that killed an army officer and injured six other people, the minister said.
Connected to two other bombings
The suspected ETA leader was also connected to at least two other car bombings — one in the northern city of Calahorra in March that damaged 350 homes and the other in August 2007 in which two police officers were slightly wounded, Rubalcaba said.
Martitegi allegedly took over ETA's leadership following the arrest of the previous suspected commander, Aitzol Iriondo, in December, the minister said.
Martitegi was caught along with Alexander Uriarte Cuadrado, 27, and a third, unnamed, suspect, authorities said. Three guns, two cars — one with false license plates — and suspected bomb-making equipment were seized. Rubalcaba said a small quantity of explosives were also found and were being analyzed by French police.
Six other suspected ETA members were arrested in an operation that lasted until early Sunday in Spain's northern Basque region. They ranged in age from 25 to 31.
ETA has waged a violent campaign that has claimed more than 825 lives since the late 1960s for an independent Basque state straddling northern Spain and southwest France.
Rubalcaba said that although there was evidence that some ETA members were considering renouncing violence in favor of a negotiated end to the Basque conflict, the Spanish government would not negotiate with the armed group.
"Dialogue is the past, and the past never returns," Rubalcaba said.
'We will put an end to ETA'
Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero tried to negotiate with ETA during his first term in office. But the government broke off talks when an ETA bomb killed two people at a Madrid airport parking garage in December 2006 during a cease-fire.
"I can assure you we will put an end to ETA," Zapatero said at a Socialist party rally Sunday.
Iriondo was arrested in southern France on Dec. 8, three weeks after his alleged predecessor, Mikel de Garikoitz Aspiazu, alias Txeroki, was caught in France.
France's Interior Ministry said five suspected ETA militants had been arrested in 10 days, including the three arrests Saturday.
One man, Ekaitz Sirvent Auzmendi, was arrested a week ago as he drew a .357 Magnum revolver on a crowded railway platform after arriving from Bordeaux at the French capital's Montparnasse station.