Police search for suspected ETA members in police shooting
French police are searching for at least six suspected members of the Basque separatist group ETA on Wednesday, a day after a French policeman was shot and killed in a Paris suburb after stopping a car for speeding.
AFP - Basque ETA separatists were accused Wednesday of killing a policeman in a shoot-out near Paris, the first deadly attack by the armed group on a French officer in its 40-year campaign.
Prime Minister Francois Fillon declared that the police officer was the victim of a "cold-blooded assassination by a terrorist group" and vowed to track down those responsible.
French anti-terrorism police arrested a 27-year-old man who acknowledged being a member of ETA and were hunting five others, including a woman, after the murder late Tuesday, a judicial official said.
Jean Serge Nerin, 52, was fatally wounded to the chest, the shot tearing through his bullet-proof vest, during a gunbattle that erupted after a routine police check near Dammarie-Les-Lys, southeast of Paris, the official said.
President Nicolas Sarkozy spoke by phone with Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero and agreed to "redouble" efforts to root out ETA, which has waged an armed campaign for an independent homeland for more than 40 years.
"I felt the assassination of this gendarme as if it were a member of our own security forces because I know how much they work with us and are dedicated to the cause of freedom and of ending ETA," Zapatero said in Madrid.
"This time France has paid a high price for its cooperation with us in the fight against ETA which is so important for our freedom and security," he said.
ETA, banned as a terrorist group by the European Union and the United States, is blamed for 828 deaths in its 41-year campaign for independence for the Basque region of northern Spain and southwestern France.
It resumed attacks in mid-2007 after a 15-month truce and abortive negotiations with Zapatero's Socialist government, which has since adopted a firm line against the group.
Around 100 alleged members of ETA were arrested in 2009 and some 30 more since the start of the year, many of them in France thanks to cooperation between French and Spanish police.
French investigators said they were working on the assumption that ETA was responsible for the killing but that there had not yet been a claim of responsibility from the Basque group itself.
It would be the first time a French policeman has been killed by the outfit in France, where Sarkozy's government has cracked down on ETA, arresting five top leaders over the past two years.
France and Spain signed a special accord in January 2008 allowing Spanish agents to operate in southwestern France as part of their joint fight against ETA, and two undercover officers were killed there last year.
Spanish newspaper El Mundo named the suspect as Joseba Fernandez Aspurz, adding that "he was speaking Basque and identified himself as a member of the terrorist organisation."
A father of four, Nerin had spotted a car parked on a dirt road near the town late Tuesday and checked the identities of four people suspected of stealing cars from a nearby garage.
After disarming one suspect who pulled a pistol on them, police then handcuffed the group. Two more vehicles then pulled up and a gunbattle ensued.
Police have recovered a .357 magnum revolver used by the shooter, although its serial number had been filed off, and the vehicles have yet to be found.
Spanish officials said the revolver came from a weapons stash stolen by an ETA cell in October 2006 near Nimes, southern France.
French Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux visited the Dammarie-Les-Lys police station where officers had called for a peaceful protest to be held in sympathy with their slain comrade.