July 24, 2008 / 4:00 PM / in 10 years

ETA planned to kill anti-terror judge: sources

MADRID (Reuters) - Basque guerrilla group ETA planned to assassinate a top anti-terrorism judge, court sources said on Thursday, after police interrogated an ETA suspect arrested on Tuesday.

Arkaitz Goikoetxea, alleged leader of the "Comando Vizcaya" of armed Basque separatists ETA, is led away by Spanish civil guards during an operation in Bilbao July 22, 2008. REUTERS/Vincent West

Arkaitz Goikoetxea, the suspected leader of ETA’s “Vizcaya cell” which has been blamed by Spanish authorities for murdering a civil guard policeman in the past year, said he had been ordered to kill judge Fernando Grande-Marlaska.

“It seems one of those detained, Arkaitz Goikoetxea, has confessed to the police that a year ago, he received the order from ETA to track and locate judge Grande-Marlaska,” a judicial source told Reuters.

Meanwhile, police said they had found a cache of 100 kilograms of explosives in Ezcaray, a town in the northern region of Rioja where Grande-Marlaska owns an apartment, near where police on Wednesday found another weapons stash.

The Basque-born judge is well-known for his pursuit of the armed group, which has killed more than 800 people over four decades in its fight for an independent Basque state.

The investigating judge was unfazed by news of the plot.

“It’s all part of the job,” local media quoted him as saying, adding it would be strange if he was not on a hit list.

He has jailed several key members of ETA and others for low-level street violence in support of the group in the last year and has sought to hunt down ETA’s financing sources.

Police arrested Goikoetxea — one of the most wanted men in Spain — and eight others belonging to the Vizcaya cell on Tuesday in a police raid in the northern city of Bilbao.

Spain’s Socialist government says the guerrillas, classed as a terrorist group by the European Union and the United States, have been severely weakened by a string of high profile arrests.

That has not stopped ETA (Euskadi ta Askatasuna, or Basque Homeland and Freedom) staging over a dozen attacks and two killings this year. ETA was blamed for a string of bomb blasts that exploded in tourist resorts on Sunday.

Reporting by Feliciano Tisera; writing by Ben Harding

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