Two senior ETA figures arrested in France

 

French police have arrested the suspected political leader of the Basque terrorist group ETA.

Twenty people were detained and a quantity of weapons seized in an operation against the group in France and Spain today.

Mr Mikel Albisu Iriarte, alias "Mikel Antza", said by Spanish authorities to have been ETA's political chief since 1993, was arrested with another suspected ETA veteran, Ms Soledad Iparraguirre, alias "Anboto", at Salies de Bearn in southwestern France, according to French police sources.

Ms Iparraguirre, accused of involvement in at least 14 murders, is the highest- anking woman in ETA, the Spanish Interior Ministry said in a statement.
  
A total of 20 people suspected of links to ETA were detained in France, where dozens of anti-terrorist and local police took part in a series of raids in a search for ETA bases.
  
Spanish police also arrested a truck driver in the central city of Burgos who was suspected of involvement in attacks last week in which bombs were attached to electricity pylons in Spain.

"The operation is very important. Seven homes have been searched (in southwestern France) and important documents, weapons and explosives have been seized," Spanish Interior Minister Mr Jose Antonio Alonso said.

The arrests were hailed in Spain as an important blow to ETA, already reported to be severely weakened following hundreds of arrests by French and Spanish police in recent years.

The Spanish Interior Ministry said Ms Iparraguirre was in charge of collecting and distributing the so-called "revolutionary tax", a form of extortion imposed by ETA on some Basque firms and businessmen.

Mr Albisu hit the headlines in Spain in January when media reports said he was one of the ETA leaders who held a meeting with a leftist Catalan nationalist politician, Mr Josep-Lluis Carod-Rovira. Carod was forced to resign as number two official in the Catalan government after the meeting came to light.