Spanish police make record ETA arms haul

ETA is blamed for the deaths of 829 people in its campaign of bombings.

Last Updated: Apr 15, 2011, 08:56 AM IST

Madrid: Spanish police seized 1.6 tonnes of explosives in the biggest ever seizure in a single operation against the Basque separatist group in the country, the Interior Ministry said on Thursday.

The seizure follows an operation launched on Tuesday in northern Spain`s Basque country against an ETA commando unit called "Erreka", the ministry said in a statement. Three people were arrested.

"Since the start of the operation against the Erreka commando unit, the Civil Guard seized more than 1,600 kilogrammes of explosive material in what is the biggest ETA haul found in Spain until now," the statement said.

On Thursday, police arrested a man in the Basque city of San Sebastian. The detention was linked to Tuesday`s arrest of two brothers suspected of belonging to Erreka.

The explosives were seized from five locations, including the homes of the two men detained on Tuesday, a house in a nearby village and three other locations.

Police on Tuesday found 850 kilogrammes (1,874 pounds) of ammonium nitrate fertilizer, 13.5 kilogrammes of the explosive pentrite and detonators in their pre-dawn raid at an isolated farm in Legorreta in the biggest explosives cache to be confiscated by police in Spain since 1999.

That same day, police detained Jose Aitor Esnaola, 40, and Igor Esnaola, 36, on suspicion they belonged to ETA.

Their arrest came three days after a French policeman was wounded in an armed exchange in the Creuse region of southwestern France. A couple were later detained on suspicion of belonging to ETA.

ETA is blamed for the deaths of 829 people in its four-decade campaign of bombings and shootings to force the creation of an independent Basque homeland in northern Spain and southwestern France.

Traditionally, ETA used France as a safe rear-base for attacks on Spain, but in recent years the two EU allies have strengthened cross-border police cooperation and cracked down hard on the group.

ETA in January declared a "permanent and general ceasefire" but Spain`s Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero rejected the declaration, saying he wanted nothing less than ETA`s dissolution.

On Tuesday, Interior Minister Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba stressed that ETA had not "definitively given up violence”, adding that Madrid would continue to work so that the group gave up arms permanently.

ETA had already announced a "permanent ceasefire" in March 2006 within the framework of negotiations with Madrid. But nine months later, it set off a bomb in the carpark of Madrid-Barajas airport, killing two men.

Bureau Report