In a joint operation by French and Spanish police, Miguel de Garikoitz Aspiazu Rubina AKA “Txeroki” (Cherokee)—Spain’s most wanted terror suspect and purported military head of ETA—was arrested Nov. 16 in the resort town of Cauterets in the French Pyrenees, along with another ETA suspect and a woman. Txeroki, 36, reputedly masterminding a series of deadly attacks including the murder of a judge, a plot to kill King Juan Carlos and a bomb attack on the Socialist politician Eduardo Madina.
The leaders of both France and Spain hailed the arrest as a significant blow to the separatist group. “Today ETA is weaker and Spanish democracy is stronger,” said Spanish Prime Minister José Luis RodrÍguez Zapatero. “It has not lost its ability to attack all citizens. It has not lost its ability to cause pain. But with this arrest it has suffered a severe blow.”
“This arrest shows once again the strong commitment of the French police and gendarmerie and the excellent cooperation between France and Spain in the fight against Basque terrorism,” said French President Sarkozy, who announced an extraordinary summit on cross-border terrorism with Zapatero.
Txeroki is also believed to have shot dead two undercover Spanish police officers at Capbreton in southern France last December, and is said to have organized the bomb attack on Barajas airport in Madrid in December 2006, which killed two Ecuadorans. His capture arrest is the biggest blow to ETA since the May arrest in Bordeaux of ETA’s presumed leader Javier López Peña, effectively “decapitating” the organisation. (London Times, Melbourne Herald Sun, Nov. 18)
Despite claims of a “massive blow” to the ETA, the London Times recalls in its coverage the similar claims that were made after the April 1973 death in a gunfight with Spanish police near Bilbao of the ETA’s then-military leader Eustaquio Txikia Mendizábal.
Days earlier, Sinn Féin MEP Bairbre de Brún issued a call for the European Union to encourage a peace process in the Basque Country. Speaking at a conference on Conflict Resolution in the in the European Parliament in Brussels, de Brún said: “As the US, the EU and others helped the Irish peace process, so too there is an important role for the international community in encouraging a peace process in the Basque country.” (Sinn Féin, Nov. 11)