Spain said it will keep up pressure on the Basque separatist group ETA following the weekend arrests of ETA's suspected political leader by French police.
Will ETA bombings now become less frequent?
Spain's Interior Minister Jose Antonio Alonso described the operation over the weekend that led to the arrest of a top ETA leader, detention of 20 others, and the seizure of weapons and explosives, as "historic."
But while the ETA was clearly weakened by the raid, there are questions as to just how much damage it actually did to the organization.
Alonso expressed relief that the huge operation -- involving some 150 French police officers who raided ten locations in southern France -- had led to the arrest of Mikel Albizu Iriarte, his female companion, and others involved in the separatist organization.
Don't ease up
"I don’t need to stress that the recent arrest is beneficial for our country and its people," he said.
He went on to say the ETA was in very bad shape, but warned authorities not to ease up for even a minute in the fight against ETA's terrorism. The battle is not over, he warned.
ETA has been blamed for the deaths of more than 800 people in its violent, 36-year campaign for an independent homeland in northern Spain and southern France. The separatist organization targets Spain’s economy, especially its important tourism sector, in a bid to force the government’s hand. The group carried out a series of small bomb attacks in coastal resorts in Northern Spain in August this year to underline this threat and to keep the population on edge.
The house in Salis-de-Bearn in southwestern France where two well-known ETA leaders were arrested Sunday.
On Sunday, French police arrested ETA’s alleged leader, Mikel Albizu Iriarte, along with his female companion, Soledad Iparraguirre and 19 other ETA members, in a house in southern France (photo).
The pair, both aged 43, had been on the run since 1993. They were with their daughter when they were arrested. They had false papers and refused to answer questions but were identified by police agents and by their fingerprints.
Weapons and explosives
Police also seized a vast weapons arsenal – including over 400 kilos (880 pounds) of dynamite and 40,000 ammunition rounds -- in a raid that is being described as having virtually decapitated the organization.
Mikel Albizu Iriarte - who used the alias Mikel Antza – is believed to have taken over as head of ETA in the early 1990s. During the past 10 years, Iriarte managed to hold negotiations with the Spanish government, and even agreed to a cease fire that lasted until 1999.
Spanish police however are not expected to seek Iriarte’s extradition, because there is no proof he was directly involved in any killings.
Former Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar said ETA is not interested in peace.
"They try to reach their political goals through murder, blackmail, kidnappings and other crimes," he told news agencies.The capture of Iriarte and Iparraguirre follows the arrest of nearly 200 ETA members in recent years. Those arrests too were said to have brought ETA to its knees. But the fact that hundreds of kilos of dynamite were seized in Sunday’s raid showed the ETA was still very capable of attacking – and the organization has had an uncanny ability to regroup itself.