[JURIST] French prosecutors on Friday filed preliminary terrorism charges against 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. A judicial source said that the charges against the alleged ETA members stem from preparations to commit a terrorist act [AP report], including theft, forgery, and illegal arms charges. The three men, Ibon Gogeascoechea Arronategui, Beinat Aguinalde Ugartemendia, and Gergorio Jimenez Moralesare, were arrested on Sunday [JURIST report] in the French village Cahan in a joint Spain-France operation. Gogeascoechea is thought to be ETA's military leader. He 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 great strides recently in its attempts to limit ETA influence. Earlier this week, the Spanish National Court [official website, in Spanish] sentenced [JURIST report] former Basque separatist party leader Arnaldo Otegi to two years in prison for promoting terrorism in a speech he gave. 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 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.