France Captures Top ETA Leader

Article excerpt

The military leader of the Basque terrorist group ETA was removed from the top of Spain's most-wanted list early Monday morning, when French police arrested Garikoitz Aspiazu Rubina, alias Txeroki, in the Pyrenean town of Cauterets. Spanish police allege that he's directly responsible for several murders. Txeroki, they say, is suspected of ordering the 2006 bombing at Madrid's Barajas airport.

"This has been a hard blow and ETA is going to suffer for it," said Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez in reference to the arrest. "Today ETA is weaker and our democracy is stronger."

Although experts have been sounding the death-knell of ETA for years, the detention of Txeroki comes on the heels of several other significant arrests, including the recent capture of the group's political leader. The separatist group, which has killed more than 800 people in the past 40 years, is now believed to be in a historically unprecedented state of decline.

Txeroki, who is in his 30s, had only recently risen through the ranks of ETA's hierarchy, replacing previous operational leaders Mikel Albizu and Soledad Iparraguirre, who were arrested in 2004. From the outset, he showed himself to be a hard-line partisan of violence as the preferred means of obtaining an independent Basque homeland. Early in his leadership, police allege that he ordered an assassination attempt on the life of Spanish king, Juan Carlos.

"He is the hardest of hard-liners," says sociologist Ignacio Sanchez-Cuenca, of Madrid's Juan March Institute. "This is a person deeply implicated in violence."

Two members of ETA now behind bars have also testified that Txeroki himself pulled the trigger on two Spanish Civil Guards assassinated in the French coastal town of Capbreton earlier this year. Perhaps the most serious act of his career, however, was the bombing of a parking lot at Barajas airport in December 2006. In addition to killing two Ecuadorean immigrants, the attack brought an abrupt end to flailing peace talks with the Spanish government that began when ETA declared a "permanent" cease-fire in March of that year. Today, the headline of a profile of Txeroki in Spanish newspaper El Pais declared: "The ETA member who blew up hopes for peace. …