[JURIST] The Interior Ministry of Spain [official website, in Spanish] said Sunday that it has taken into custody the suspected leader of the Basque separatist group ETA [GlobalSecurity backgrounder; JURIST news archive], along with two other people who are believed to be senior members of the group. Ibon Gogeascoechea Arronategui and the two others were arrested [AP report] in the French village of Cahan, after a long surveillance operation by Spain and France. In a nationally televised news conference, Spanish Interior Minister Alferdo Perez Rubalcaba [official profile] said that the men were planning to enter Spain with the "worst intentions." Gogeascoechea has been sought since 1997 for his role in planting explosives around the Guggenheim museum in Bilbao which was believed to be an assassination attempt [BBC report] on King Juan Carlos. The two other men – Beinat Aguinalde Ugartemendia, and Gergorio Jimenez Morales – are wanted for separate assassinations [RFI report] that took place in 2008.
Spain has made progress in its attempts to limit ETA influence in the past few years. In January Spanish Judge Fernando Grande-Marlaska ruled [JURIST report] that ETA had tried three times to assassinate former Spanish prime minister Jose Maria Aznar in 2001 but had failed. Grande-Marlaska detailed the three assassination attempts [El Pais report, in Spanish] as part of a description of the alleged crimes of ETA leader Pedro Maria Olano Zabala, who was arrested in the Basque region earlier that month. In September, accused ETA leader Mikel Garikoitz Aspiazu Rubina refused to make any statement [JURIST report] during hearings before the Spanish National Court. In June, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) [official website] upheld [JURIST report] Spain's ban of Basque political groups Batasuna [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive] and Herri Batasuna for their alleged ties to ETA. In April, alleged ETA leader Jurdan Martitegi Lizaso [El Pais backgrounder, in Spanish] was arrested in France, and a Spanish judge charged [JURIST reports] him with murder for a May 2008 car bombing that killed a Spanish policeman.