French police have arrested the man believed to be the new military chief of the Basque separatist group ETA. Aitzol Iriondo was picked up with two others near the town of Bagneres-de-Bigorre in south-west France.
The men were armed, but arrested without incident. Meanwhile police in Spain have taken three more into custody in connection with the operation.
Spain’s interior minister Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba issued the following warning: “If a terrorist is thinking right now about taking the place of Aitzol Iriondo I can guarantee that from this very moment we are already looking for you. And this will continue until it ends.”
The arrests follows the detention of Garikoitz Aspiazu, alias Cherokee, suspected of killing two Spanish undercover police in Capbreton one year ago.
Authorities allege Iriondo was involved in the slaying of a Basque businessman in early December.
France and Spain have stepped up cooperation to crackdown on ETA since a special accord was signed in January allowing Spanish police to operate in south-west France.