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ETA military chief charged in France


Agence France-Presse
First Posted 20:47:00 11/21/2008

Filed Under: Acts of terror

PARIS?The alleged military chief of the Basque separatist group ETA, Miguel de Garikoitz Aspiazu Rubina, has been charged with terrorist offenses and jailed in Paris, officials said Friday.

Known by the nom de guerre "Txeroki" -- the Basque spelling of "Cherokee" -- the 35-year-old suspected guerrilla leader was arrested on Monday in a pre-dawn raid on a rented apartment in the French Pyrenees spa resort of Cauterets.

He appeared before a Paris judge late Thursday and was formally charged in connection with the December 2007 killing of two undercover Spanish police officers in southwestern France's Landes region.

Txeroki is accused of helping prepare the murder, but officials said there was no evidence to prove that he was the third man who gunned down the two Spanish civil guard members as they stepped out of a cafe.

He was charged with "leading a criminal group with terrorist aims," an offence punishable by 20 years in jail.

Spanish officials had described Txeroki as the most important ETA leader still at large and the head of the group's armed wing.

Spain went on terror alert following his arrest, and Interior Minister Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba said his capture marked a major blow against ETA, as Txeroki enjoyed legendary status among Basque separatists.

In the case of the 2007 attack on the Spanish police officers, Txeroki was charged with stealing weapons and vehicles and with possession of bomb-making materials, but he was not indicted for murder.

Txerori's alleged lieutenant, Leire Lopez Zurrutuza, 31, was also charged with taking part "in a criminal enterprise with terrorist aims" late Thursday and both were remanded in custody.

ETA, which has killed more than 820 people in its 40-year campaign for an independent Basque homeland, claimed responsibility for the December 1 attack in a statement issued two weeks later.

France earlier this week said it was ready to hand over Txeroki to Spain.

The two countries have stepped up cooperation to crack down on ETA since a special accord was signed in January 2008 allowing Spanish agents to operate freely in southwestern France.

Once a safe haven for Basque militants, France began arresting ETA suspects after the group called off a 15-month-old ceasefire in June 2007, shattering hopes of a peace settlement.

French Interior Minister Michele Alliot-Marie said 36 people who were either ETA members or linked to the group had been arrested in France since the beginning of the year.

Txeroki's arrest was the biggest blow against ETA since the group's presumed leader, Javier Lopez Pena, was detained along with three other suspected members of the group in France in May.

Spanish police believe Txeroki is connected to all the major ETA operations carried out since late 2003 when he took over the outfit's military operations.

He is linked to a Madrid airport bomb attack in December 2006 that killed two Ecuadorian men and led the Socialist government of Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero to end its tentative peace talks with ETA.



Copyright 2014 Agence France-Presse. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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