ETA boss who tried to kill the King of Spain is captured
Rebels caught after renting a house in France using fake identification
The leader of the armed Basque separatist group ETA was caught last night in northern France.
The Spanish government announced the arrest which is just the latest blow to a group weakened by 32 arrests in just two months. Ibon Gogeascoechea, wanted for trying to kill Spain's King Juan Carlos in 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 interior ministry said.
Mr Gogeascoechea was the fifth ETA leader to be caught since 2008 and his arrest was one of a wave of detentions this year, which has also seen the seizure of two tonnes of explosives, Interior Minister Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba said.
"I would say these have been the worst two months in ETA's history," Mr Rubalcaba told a news conference, adding that he thought the two men caught with Mr Gogeascoechea were receiving their last orders before going on a mission to Spain.
"This was a commando group about to enter Spain with the worst intentions," Mr Rubalcaba said.
The government believes ETA, which has killed more than 850 people but whose last fatal attack was the killing of two police officers on the island of Majorca in July, has been severely weakened by hundreds of arrests in recent years.
Much of the improvement in police action has been due to cooperation with France and Portugal, which rebels have used as hideouts.
A leading member of ETA's political wing Batasuna last week called for an end to the armed struggle.
A faction of Batasuna now wants to launch a legal political party to peacefully pursue the aim of independence for the Basque country from Spain.
But Batasuna has lost influence over the rebels since the collapse of a peace talks with the Spanish government following a bomb attack on Madrid airport in 2006 which ended a ceasefire and killed two people.
The 54-year-old Mr Gogeascoechea and his accomplices were caught in a car with false licence plates after arousing suspicion by renting a rural house using fake identities, the interior ministry said.
He has been personally linked to attacks including the 2008 assassination of Isaias Carrasco, a small-town Socialist Party politician, Mr Rubalcaba said.
"He has been responsible for a good part of the most atrocious attacks since the end of the ceasefire," said Mr Rubalcaba, who cautioned that even a weakened ETA would be capable of carrying out attacks.
At one stage perhaps 15pc of Basques sympathised with the struggle for independence for their mountainous homeland, which also traditionally includes part of southwestern France.
But support for violence seems to be ebbing in the Basque Country, which already enjoys considerable political autonomy from Madrid.
ETA was founded more than half a century ago during the dictatorship of General Francisco Franco, who banned the use of the Basque language.