- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 8, 2003

PARIS, Jan. 8 (UPI) — French investigators have discovered an elaborate plot hatched by the Basque separatist group ETA to assassinate a prominent anti-terrorist judge, the French channel LCI reported Wednesday.

The detailed plot, tracing the daily movements of Judge Laurence Le Vert, was found among documents allegedly belonging to Ibon Fernandez Iradi, considered a top ETA commando.

Fernandez was arrested and briefly detained by French police in late December, but escaped prison a few days later in a major embarrassment for French security. The Interior Ministry suspended five policemen following his escape.

Investigators discovered the assassination plot as they looked into how Fernandez was able to escape, LCI reported.

According to the news channel, the documents included minute details of Le Vert's daily schedule and life, including his work hours, the color and license plate of his car, and the number of police officers guarding him.

Two ETA commandos planned to assassinate the judge during his commute home from work, LCI reported. According to the channel, the first was to block the bus he rode, while the second, riding a motorbike, was to gun Le Vert down.

If true, the plot confirms growing efforts to strike France by ETA, which aims to carve an independent Basque state in southern France and northern Spain.

But until recent years, the separatist group has primarily confined its military operations to Spain, where is blamed for killing more than 800 people in its more than 30-year campaign.

This is not the first time Le Vert has been targeted by the group. Two years ago, ETA ordered his death, along with that of a top anti-terrorist prosecutor.

The latest plot coincides with news the French government foiled an attempt by three ETA members to escape from their Paris prison using explosives. A French investigator told TF1 television incarcerated ETA terrorists apparently passed on telltale documents detailing ways to blast their way out with dynamite.

Several ETA prisoners have since been reassigned to different prisons across the country, the investigator said.

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