Spain arrests 2 ETA suspects, seizes explosives

Two brothers from the town near the border with France were arrested.

Last Updated: Apr 13, 2011, 11:42 AM IST

Madrid: Spanish authorities arrested two suspected members of the militant Basque separatist group ETA on Tuesday and confiscated a large amount of bomb-making material, officials said.

Agents seized 850 kilograms (1,874 pounds) of ammonium nitrate fertilizer, 13.5 kilograms (30 pounds) of the explosive pentrite and detonators in a pre-dawn raid the northern town of Legorreta, Spain`s Interior Ministry said in a statement.

Two brothers from the town near the border with France were arrested and identified as Jose Aitor Esnaola, 40, and Igor Esnaola, 36, a separate ministry statement said. They were detained in Madrid pending judicial action.

The arrests came days after a weekend gunbattle in central France in which a French officer was wounded by suspected ETA members. A driver failed to stop at a checkpoint, and her companion opened fire at officers in pursuit. The two suspects were arrested on Sunday after fleeing on foot through forests.

The event prompted an outcry in Spain after a Basque pro-independence coalition downplayed the event as an "incident”, prompting Interior Minister Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba on Monday to say it was a "sick joke" for the shooting to be called anything but an attempted killing.

Besides the explosives confiscated on Tuesday, agents also seized material hidden in the home in Legorreta that could be used to make detonators, and ETA documents, the Interior Ministry said.

ETA has killed more than 825 people since the late 1960s and is considered a terrorist organisation by Spain, the European Union and the United States.

The group declared a ceasefire in September. In January, it called the ceasefire permanent, although it has called 11 truces throughout its 40-year history of violent separatism.

ETA`s most recent "permanent" ceasefire was in 2006, but it ended with a car bomb at a parking garage at Madrid`s international airport that killed two people.

The group has been decimated by a wave of arrests over the last year, and Basque separatists launched a new party in February to field pro-independence candidates in May 22 regional and local elections.

The Supreme Court denied Sortu legal status last month and barred it from elections, saying it is a repackaged version of ETA`s outlawed political wing Batasuna.

Bureau Report