French officer dies in shootout with ETA gang
Published 18/03/2010 | 05:00
A French police sergeant has been killed on the outskirts of Paris in an attack blamed on suspected Basque terrorists.
A 26-year-old from Spain was arrested during the gunfight in Dammarie-les-Lys, near Fontainebleau, which broke out after a police patrol found three men and a woman filling the petrol tanks of four cars on a country track. The cars had just been stolen from a second-hand car sales depot by the suspected Eta gang.
Anti-terrorist police in Paris and the Spanish government said that the attackers were assumed to be members of Eta, the Basque separatist organisation. If confirmed, the attack would mark the first killing of a French officer by the group in its 41-year campaign.
Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, the Spanish prime minister, said: "France has paid a high price for its help against Eta."
The police sergeant was named as Jean-Serge Nerin. President Sarkozy is to visit the police station where Sergeant Nerin, who had four children, was based today.
A public demonstration in support of the sergeant was staged outside his police station.
Police sources said that the man they arrested, Josebo Fernandez Aspurz, told them that he was a member of Eta. He had left Spain a week earlier and is wanted there for street violence of the kind usually associated with pro-Eta youth groups, according to the Spanish media.
Police were unprepared for the danger that they faced when they stopped to make a routine identity check on the people filling cars with petrol. One of the drivers pulled out a pistol but was disarmed by the officers who then handcuffed the group.
Two other cars arrived and their occupants opened fire on the police. Sergeant Nerin was hit by three bullets which entered his chest via his armpit despite the bullet-resistant vest that he was wearing.
The other officer managed to restrain Mr Aspurz. At least five others in the gang fled.
There was no indication that the group was under surveillance by the anti-terrorist units that track Eta activities.
Mr Sarkozy's government has been attempting to stop Eta using south-west France as a logistics base.
French police, working with the Spanish, have arrested about 20 suspects in the past six months. Last month Ibon Gogeascoechea, who is said to be one of Eta's most senior leaders, was arrested.
Eta is blamed for 828 deaths in its fight for independence for the Basque region. (© The Times, London)