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Is ETA Extending Activities from Spain to France? - 2001-12-13

ETA, the Basque separatist group, Thursday claimed responsibility for the shooting last month of two French policemen. The claim comes one day after the arrest by French police of four suspected ETA members in southwestern France.

French media have identified the four suspected ETA members arrested Wednesday as being in charge of logistical operations for the Basque terrorist group. The reports said two of the four were top ETA commandos wanted by Madrid for participating in several assassinations. Europe1 radio identified another member as a French female member of ETA.

Meanwhile, a statement attributed to ETA was published in two Basque newspapers Thursday claiming responsibility for wounding two French police officers in November shootings. But the statement said the shootings were done in self-defense, and that ETA had not opened a, quote, "new front" in France. In Madrid, several Spanish politicians denounced the disclaimer as coldly cynical.

More than 800 people have been killed during ETA's three-decade campaign for an independent Basque state in northern Spain and southern France. But to date, ETA has largely confined its strikes to Spain. Police believe it uses France mostly to recruit new militants and steal weapons.

But some French and Spanish officials have voiced fears recently that scenario might change, even as French police intensify their campaign against the group. Since September, some 17 presumed ETA members have been arrested in France. In recent days, police arrested seven, including the four rounded up Wednesday.

Spain's interior minister praised the latest roundups as testament of the close cooperation between French and Spanish police.

Meanwhile, the Spanish newspaper La Vanguardia reports that Madrid this month began circulating a secret list of 167 ETA-related suspects to police throughout Europe. Separately, the European Union is in the process of creating a common, continent-wide arrest warrant.