By Al Goodman
March 17, 2010
Madrid, Spain (CNN) -- A French police officer has died in a shootout
with suspected members of the Basque separatist group ETA near Paris,
the Spanish Interior Ministry said Wednesday.
It is the first time a French police officer has been killed by ETA,
a ministry spokeswoman added.
ETA is blamed for more than 800 killings in its long fight for Basque
independence and is listed as a terrorist organization by the
European Union and the United States.
French police responded to reports of car theft in a town near Paris
late Tuesday and a shootout ensued with a group of alleged thieves.
Most of them escaped but police captured one and he was later
identified as a suspected ETA member, said the spokeswoman, who by
custom is not identified.
Spanish media reported that the shootout occurred in the town of
Dammarie-les-Lys. The dead French policeman was wearing a
bullet-proof vest but bullets struck fatally elsewhere on his body.
He was reported to be in his 50s, and the father of four children.
ETA has traditionally used France as its rearguard logistics and
planning base to prepare attacks across the border in Spain, officials say.
But in recent years as Spain has enlisted increased cooperation from
France in cracking down on ETA hideouts, there have been various
exchanges of gunfire between ETA suspects and French police, wounding
Almost all of ETA's fatal shootings and car bombings have occurred in
Spain. But in December 2007, ETA shot dead two Spanish Civil Guards
in France. The officers were there on a joint undercover mission with
France against ETA.
Last February 28 in France, police arrested the suspected top ETA leader.
At the time, French Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux told CNN
affiliate BFM-TV, "France has long been considered as a logistical
base for ETA. We have established a close cooperation with Spanish
authorities, and we decided to strike, and strike hard because France
doesn't have to welcome terrorists."
It was the fifth time since May 2008 that the suspected top ETA
"military" leader, who directs commandos that carry out deadly
attacks, has been detained, Spanish Interior Minister Alfredo Perez
Rubalcaba said on February 28.
After each such arrest, ETA replaced the top leader, Rubalcaba said,
and he warned that the latest arrests do not signify the end of ETA.
"This does not eliminate the risk of an attack. ETA has the worst
intentions, so we can't lower our guard," Rubalcaba said last February 28.
Founded in 1959, ETA is an acronym for Euskadi ta Askatasuna, which
means "Basque Homeland and Liberty" in the Basque language.
ETA seeks an independent Basque homeland comprising four provinces of
northern Spain and three departments of southwest France, all with
Police in Spain have been on heightened alert for a potential ETA
attack or kidnapping since December, when Rubalcaba issued an unusual
Spain, France and Portugal have arrested more than 32 ETA suspects
this year alone, Rubalcaba said.
"These have been the worst two months for ETA in its history,"
Rubalcaba said last February, adding that in addition to the 32
arrests, police seized 4,400 pounds of explosives in various raids this year.