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Spanish press speculate on ‘disastrous’ ETA operation in France

Text by Joseph BAMAT

Latest update : 2010-03-18

Days after a French policeman was shot dead by suspected Basque separatists near Paris, Spanish newspapers continue to offer varying accounts on the first killing of a French policeman in ETA’s history.

On Tuesday, Jean-Serge Nerin, 52, became the first French policeman to be killed on French soil by a suspected member of the nationalist organisation since the group began using violence some 40 years ago.

The Spanish daily “El Pais” says the botched plan to steal six expensive cars from a dealership, which lead to the policeman’s murder, equalled a strategic disaster for the separatist group, and was further evidence of its diminishing numbers and arms stockade.

The leading Spanish daily went on to say that the activity organised by ETA was “ahead of an operation of greater impact, or the beginning of a new wave of attacks in Spain.”

The incident grabbed a top headline in “La Vanguardia”, which gave a detailed, but still unconfirmed, account of the events leading to the French policeman’s killing and the arrest of one of the suspected ETA militants.

“La Vanguardia” was one of several Spanish newspapers to reveal the detainee as a Joseba Fernandez Aspurz, who was handcuffed by police on a road in Dammarie-Les-Lys before unseen ETA agents “opened fire on the policemen to liberate their associates.”

The conservative daily “ABC” cited experts who suspect the operation was a prelude to an imminent hit on weapons stockades, similar to ETA’s “1999 assault in (the northwest French town) Plevin, in which they took nine tons of dynamite, or the one committed in 2001 in the south-eastern French town of Grenoble, in which they took 1,500 kilos of explosives.”

ETA has long used safe-houses across the border in France, outside its main battle ground in northern Spain. But strengthened anti-terrorist cooperation between Madrid and Paris has significantly weakened the group in recent years – a trend that was dramatically highlighted on Tuesday by the death of Nerin.

Thursday’s headline in “El Diario Vasco”, a regional Basque newspaper, read: “Nothing will ever be the same for ETA,” referring to a change in tone among French security forces regarding the ongoing efforts to root out Basque separatists in its territory.

“El Diario Vasco” underscored the fact that previous court cases in France against ETA figureheads revealed that the armed group had given direct orders to its militants to avoid shooting French security officers, and that it was permitted only in extreme situations, such as the capture of one its members.

The disastrous operation, the daily said, was a further indication of ETA’s significant recruitment problem, which has filled its diluted ranks with a “mix of zealous youths from the urban guerrilla and hardened veterans fished out of exile from Latin America.”

Tuesday’s shootout followed the arrest last month of the alleged ETA chief Ibon Gogeascoechea in the French village of Cahan.

Date created : 2010-03-18

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