Both Spain and France have hailed the arrest of the suspected military leader of the Basque separatist group ETA in southern France. Garikoitz Aspiazu, known as Cherokee, was seized along with a woman early on Monday near the border with Spain. Authorities believe the 35-year old had been in charge of ETA’s military operations since 2003. The woman he was with is also a suspected ETA member. They had apparently been renting a flat in the small town of Cauterets, where police also seized a gun and false French and Spanish ID.
Spanish prime minister Luis Rodriguez Zapatero said the arrest – the latest in a string of similar operations – dealt a severe blow to ETA, adding: “Today, Spanish democracy is stronger and ETA is weaker.” Aspiazu is suspected of involvement in the killing of two Spanish civil guards in the French seaside town of Capbreton in December 2007. Madrid also holds him responsible for ordering a car bombing at Madrid airport in December 2006, which killed two people and put an end to peace talks with the Spanish government. French interior minister Michelle Alliot-Marie congratulated both French and Spanish services: “We owe this arrest to the hard work of the French intelligence services. It also comes as a result of joint work with the Spanish authorities as part of a bilateral agreement in the fight against terrorism which we signed last January,” said Alliot-Marie.