- The Washington Times - Friday, January 10, 2003

PARIS, Jan. 10 (UPI) — Three suspected members of the separatist ETA group were arrested in the Southwestern French city of Dax Friday, and a Paris prosecutor recommended stiff prison sentences for 10 other alleged ETA members.

The latest arrests — two women and a man — took place early Friday, an Interior Ministry spokesman told United Press International.

All three were carrying automatic rifles and were "known people … on the other side of the Pyrenees" mountains, in Spain.

One of the suspects is believed to be involved with financial operations for the separatist Basque group, while another is believed to be a seasoned commando, the spokesman said. He declined to reveal their names.

ETA has mostly staged attacks in Spain during its more than 30-year campaign for an independent Basque state.

But the group appears to be expanding its operations in France, where it also claims a chunk of the territory should be part of any future Basque homeland.

Earlier this week, French officials apparently discovered an elaborate plot to assassinate a well-known French anti-terrorist judge.

The elements of the plot, tracking the daily work schedule and habits of judge Laurence Le Vert, were found among documents allegedly belonging to Ibon Fernandez Iradi, considered a top ETA commando.

Meanwhile, during a separate trial in Paris, the public prosecutor recommended prison sentences ranging from 5 to 10 years for almost a dozen other ETA suspects, six of them in absentia.

The stiffest sentence was recommended for Ignacio Gracia-Arregui, considered to be the former head of ETA. Arrested in 2000, he refused to answer questions during his trial this week, denied accusations, and spouted a stream of political diatribe.

Besides the recommended prison sentence, magistrate Michel Debacq also demanded Gracia-Arregui be banned from French territory. A verdict is expected Monday.

ETA's stepped-up presence in France has been complemented with a tougher crackdown on Basque extremists by French police, and better cooperation between French and Spanish anti-terrorism officials in recent years.

Many convicted ETA terrorists are extradited to Spain for a new trial, after serving out a first prison sentence in France.




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