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Spain seizes 5 more ETA suspects

From Al Goodman
CNN Madrid Bureau Chief


MADRID, Spain (CNN) -- Spanish police have arrested five suspected ETA members just days after 21 people were seized including the Basque separatist group's suspected leader, officials say.

The latest five arrests in northern Spain were the result of the information provided to authorities by an ETA suspect arrested in Spain on Sunday. The other 20 were taken into custody in France.

Wednesday's arrests included four men and one woman -- suspects police said were ready to stage attacks in northern Spain, then flee into France. The arrests were made in Pamplona, San Sebastian and Irun.

The suspected top ETA leader for the past 11 years, Mikel Albizu Iriarte, alias "Mikel Antza," was arrested Sunday in France.

Authorities nabbed him along with his sentimental companion, Soledad Iparraguirre, who is suspected of running ETA's extortion unit, which demanded protection money from businesses and individuals.

Wanted for involvement in at least 14 murders, she is considered the highest-ranking woman in ETA, the ministry said.

Following Sunday's arrests, police have uncovered numerous arms caches, including two Russian-made missiles found in France.

By late Monday, the ministry said, a search of seven suspected ETA hideouts in southwest France had yielded 627 kilos (1,379 pounds) of dynamite, 100 grenades, 31 grenade launchers, 89 guns -- including assault rifles and Uzi-type machine guns -- thousands of rounds of ammunition, and nearly $90,000 in cash.

At one location, Saint Pierre d'Irube, police found a subterranean shooting gallery apparently used by ETA activists for target practice.

Police also have found four computers that are being analyzed.

ETA, listed as a terrorist organization by the United States and the European Union, is blamed for more than 810 killings since 1968.

ETA stands for Euskadi ta Askatasuna, a Basque language phrase meaning Basque Homeland and Freedom. The outlawed group seeks an independent Basque homeland in northern Spain.

But increased cooperation between Spain and France has resulted in the arrests of hundreds of ETA suspects in recent years and the latest arrests were seen as particularly significant because ETA is considered to be weak due to the police crackdown.

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