World News

Spain says ETA rebels' top leader caught in France

MADRID (Reuters) - The leader of armed Basque separatists ETA was caught on Sunday in northern France, the Spanish Interior Ministry said, in what was the latest blow to a group weakened by hundreds of arrests. Ibon Gogeascoechea, on the run since 1997, was caught along with two other senior ETA rebels in a joint Spanish-French raid near the small town of Cahan in Normandy, the ministry said.

He was wanted for a plot to attack the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao during a visit by Spain’s King Juan Carlos.

Security forces believe ETA, which wants independence for the Basque Country and has killed more than 850 people, has been severely weakened by hundreds of arrests in recent years.

Much of the improvement has been due to better coordination between authorities in Spain and France, which ETA has long used as a hideout.

A leading member of the group’s political wing Batasuna last week called on ETA to continue its struggle by peaceful means.

But Batasuna has lost influence over the rebels since the collapse of peace talks with the Spanish government following a bomb attack on Madrid airport in 2006 which killed two people.

The 54-year-old Gogeascoechea and his accomplices were caught in a car with false license plates after arousing suspicion by renting a rural house using fake identities, the Interior Ministry said.

ETA’s last fatal attack was the killing of two police officers on the island of Majorca in July.

Reporting by Jason Webb; editing by Myra MacDonald