| 15.8°C Dublin

How the IRA nearly killed Spanish PM

An attempt to shoot down the Spanish Prime Minister's plane by a Basque terror group failed when the missile supplied by the IRA did not work.

Three times in 2001, Basque separatist group ETA tried to destroy Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar's presidential jet, but each time the Russian made SAM-7 missile refused to work.

A suspected ETA member arrested earlier this month told Spanish investigators that the Strela missile system, which homes in on a jet's exhaust, was aimed at the Prime Minister's Dassault Falcon 900 executive jet when he visited the Basque country during a regional election campaign.

But each time, twice at an airport near the coastal resort of San Sebastian, and once at an aerodrome near the Basque capital Vitoria, the weapon failed to launch.

Documents seized at the suspect's home in the Basque town of Lizartza at the time of his arrest reportedly show the faulty missile launcher was supplied by the IRA.

A letter, written in English, was sent to members of the IRA complaining about the sale of the defective SAM-7 to ETA.

ETA are said to have bought the missiles in 1999, during a period when they had declared a ceasefire, from IRA members based in Germany, who had sourced the arms in Libya.

They were later recovered from an ETA weapons cache unearthed in France in 2004.

Investigating judge Fernando Grande-Marslaska ordered the ETA suspect to prison at the National Criminal Court in Madrid on Tuesday on charges of conspiring to murder the then PM.

Aznar (57), who was Prime Minister for two consecutive terms from 1996 to 2004, survived an ETA car bomb in 1995.

SAM-7 Strela 2 missiles and launchers are known to have been included in massive arms shipments from Libya to the IRA during the 1980s.

Two of the Surface to Air Missiles were seized when the Eksund arms ship was intercepted in 1987 while on its way to Ireland.