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Police Deactivate Bomb in Spain's Basque Country - 2002-09-01

Police in northern Spain deactivated a powerful bomb Sunday that was hidden in a van stolen by suspected Basque separatists.

Authorities in the port city of Bilbao found the vehicle late Saturday in a residential part of the city. Authorities believe the intended target was one of their patrol cars.

Police say the van had been stolen earlier in the day by three masked men claiming to be members of ETA. The assailants tied the owner of the van to a tree, but he managed to escape and alert authorities.

Police say a bomb squad deactivated the device, which contained more than 30 kilograms of explosives.

The Spanish government is expected to petition the Supreme Court on Monday to permanently ban the radical Basque party Batasuna, which is considered to be the political wing of the violent separatist group ETA.

Last week, High Court judge Baltasar Garzon ordered a three-year ban on Batasuna's activities.

Batasuna denies being part of ETA, but has refused to condemn terrorist attacks carried out by separatist fighters.

The Spanish government says ETA has killed more than 800 people during its 34 year campaign of violence aimed at securing an independent Basque state. Most recently, the group said it was responsible for a car bomb attack that killed a six-year-old girl four weeks ago at a civil guards barracks in southeastern Spain.

ETA says it is fighting for an independent Basque state. The organization's name is an acronym for "Basque Homeland and Freedom" in the Basque language. The Spanish government, the European Union and the United States consider the group to be a terrorist organization.