by Staff Writers
Madrid (AFP) July 4, 2012
French police Wednesday arrested an ETA member wanted in connection with a planned missile attack on then Spanish prime minister Jose Maria Aznar in 2001, in the latest blow against the Basque separatist group.
Juan Maria Mugica was detained near the city of Pau in southwestern France in a joint French-Spanish operation, Spain's interior ministry said in a statement.
His detention brings to seven the number of ETA members arrested across Europe in just over a week, including two who were nabbed on Friday in London.
ETA announced in October last year the "definitive" end to a campaign of bombings and shootings through which it tried to carve out an independent Basque homeland in northern Spain and southwestern France.
But the group -- blamed for over 800 killings in four decades -- has not bowed to Spanish and French demands that it disarm and disband and the authorities have kept up their pressure on the outfit.
Police arrested Mugica as he was driving a car in the town of Mauleon near the Spanish border, a French police source said. He was not armed and offered no resistance, the source added.
Mugica had escaped a police raid in 2010 in Lizarta in Spain's northern Basque region. The operation dismantled an ETA cell, of which he was a member, suspected of transporting material for attacks.
ETA leaders had ordered the cell to help carry out a missile attack against a plane transporting Aznar to Spain's Basque region.
The cell transported the missile for the attack from France to Spain but the attack never took place because the weapon's firing mechanism was broken.
Mugica has since 2010 been the target of a European arrest warrant for "membership in ETA and the illegal possession of weapons and explosives with the aim of carrying out a criminal act".
Aznar, who served as conservative Popular Party prime minister between 1996 and 2004, has frequently been an ETA target.
He survived an ETA car bombing in Madrid in 1995 when he was leader of the opposition. The car's shielding protected him but one woman was killed and another 15 people were wounded.
Several veteran ETA members are among those arrested over the past week.
One of the two detained Friday by British police in a pre-dawn raid in London, Antonio Troitino Arranz, was a member in the 1980s of ETA's Madrid unit, which carried out some of the group's bloodiest attacks.
He was originally arrested in 1987 and sentenced to more than 2,700 years for 22 killings, though in practice the maximum stay in prison in Spain is 30 years.
But he fled Spain last year after a legal bungle set him free. Spanish prosecutors now want him to return and serve the rest of his 30-year sentence.
One of the Madrid unit's most notorious acts was a car bomb attack on a police bus in the capital on July 14, 1986, which killed 12 officers and wounded more than 50 others.
French police arrested two members of ETA on June 26 near Toulouse, including Ugaitz Errazquin Telleria, suspected of being part of a cell that carried out car bombings, other explosions and shooting assassinations.
The Spanish government considers Telleria to be "one of the most prominent members of ETA's criminal logistical system". He is suspected of taking part in a 2008 car bombing at the University of Navarra that wounded 28 people.
The other ETA members arrested over the past week were detained in Spain's Basque region.
ETA has not carried out an attack on Spanish soil since August 2009.
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