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Suspected New ETA Leader Arrested in France

Police in France and Spain have arrested six members of the Basque terrorist organization ETA, including the group's suspected new kingpin Aitzol Iriondo Yarza.

Archive picture of French police officers during an earlier ETA arrest in May 2008

More than 30 ETA members have been arrested in France this year

Iriondo Yarza, also known under the codename Gurbitz, and two alleged accomplices were taken into custody Monday, Dec. 8, in the French Pyrenean town of Bagneres-de-Bigorre.

He is suspected to have taken the reins of the militant group, together with the two other suspects, after ETA chief Mikel Garikoitz Aspiazu, alias Txeroki, was arrested on Nov. 17 just a short distance away.

All three suspects were armed at the time of their arrest, Spanish Interior Minister Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba said.

Spanish ETA militants have long used France as a base for their activities in Spain. More than 30 ETA members have been arrested on French territory this year.

Possible links to recent murders

Iriondo Yarza and his predecessor are both suspected of having been involved in the shooting deaths of two Spanish police officers in Capbreton, in south-western France, on Dec. 1, 2007.

Spanish Interior Minister Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba also said it was possible they had been involved the murder last week of a Basque businessman.

Alleged ETA gang leader 'Txeroki'

Txeroki was arrested last month

"It is not too bold to say that either Txeroki or Gurbitz Iriondo was behind the order" to kill the businessman, said Rubalcaba.

Ignacio Uria Mendizabal, 71, was slain last Wednesday in Spain. His company had been involved in the construction of a high-speed rail network in the Basque region, which ETA was opposed to.

Over 800 dead in four decades

Shortly after the arrests of Iriondo Yarza and the two alleged accomplices, three additional ETA suspects were taken into custody in northern Spain.

Spain and France have hailed the joint operation as the latest blow against the group, which has been classified as a terrorist organization by both the EU and the United States.

More than 800 people have been killed in ETA attacks since 1968, when the group began its violent campaign to secure Basque independence.

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