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ETA's top leader arrested in France

Nineteen other terror suspects also held after series of raids


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Mikel "Antza" Albisu Iriarte is shown in this undated file photo.
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MADRID, Spain (CNN) -- French law enforcement officials have arrested the leader of the Basque separatist group ETA in a raid in southwestern France.

A Spanish Interior Ministry spokeswoman said Sunday that fingerprints confirmed the identities of Mikel "Antza" Albisu Iriarte and his female companion, Soledad "Anboto" Iparraguire.

They were being held along with 18 other terror suspects arrested in raids in seven towns and villages in France near the border with Spain, and one in Spain itself.

Spanish Interior Minister Jose Antonio Alonso said the arrest was of "extraordinarily high importance."

"Despite this big blow to ETA, the police and the governments of Spain and France are on maximum alert," Alonso said. "You cannot lower your guard for even one single minute in the fight against the terrorist organization ETA."

The interior ministry spokeswoman described Albisu as "the top, he is number one" in ETA -- the acronym for Euskadi ta Askatasuna -- or Basque Homeland and Freedom.

Albisu has been ETA's top political leader for the past 11 years, Alonso said at a nationally televised news conference in Madrid.

Iparraguire is wanted in connection with 14 killings. Officials say she ran ETA's extortion unit, which demanded protection money from businesses and individuals -- money that was then used to finance ETA attacks.

Albisu and Iparraguire, both born in 1961, were arrested in the French town of Salies de Bearn, an Interior Ministry statement said.

The other arrests were made in six other French villages and the northern Spanish city of Burgos.

The police seized hundreds of kilos of dynamite, dozens of guns, including assault rifles, and grenades and thousands of rounds of ammunition, a Spanish Interior Ministry statement said.

ETA has fought for more than three decades to establish a Basque homeland independent of Spain. The group is blamed for more than 800 deaths.

The United States and the European Union consider ETA a terrorist organization.

CNN's Al Goodman in Madrid contributed to this article.


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