ETA leader Mikel Irastorza has been arrested in a joint Spanish-French operation. The Basque separatist group's ranks have been diminished by arrests despite a ceasefire.
A security operation conducted by French and Spanish authorities led to the arrest of the leader of the Basque militant group ETA on Saturday, Spain's Interior Ministry said.
The ministry described Mikel Irastorza as "currently the most senior leader of the terrorist group ETA still at large." He was arrested in a house in the southwestern French village of Ascain, near the Pyrenees Mountains.
Two other people housing the fugitive were also detained in the operation, which authorities said was still ongoing and could yield further arrests.
The ETA was formed in the late 1950s and carried out its first killing in 1968 as part of an armed campaign for Basque independence in northern Spain and southwestern France.
It is responsible for the deaths of more than 800 people over several decades of bombings and killings, according to authorities.
The group declared a unilateral ceasefire in 2011 but has not laid down its arms. It seeks to negotiate an amnesty and better conditions for hundreds of its members currently in prison in Spain and France.
Irastorza, who took over the leadership last year after the arrest of leaders David Pla and Iratxa Sorzabal, is the seventh leader of the group to be captured since the ceasefire went into effect, according to "El Mundo."
Arrests have largely thinned the ranks of the group. French and Spanish authorities estimate there are only 20 members still at large and another 50 are being investigated for ETA ties.
Support for ETA has also dropped as many Basques view armed struggle as out of touch with current realities.
The ETA had long been a major target for Spanish and French counterterror operations, but as the threat from the separatist group diminishes, authorities in both countries have increasingly shifted focus to the threat from Islamic militants.
cw/sms (AFP, AP, Reuters, El Mundo)