Grenade Launchers Found ahead of Visit by Spanish King to Basque Town
Police foiled an attack in Spain's Basque country Saturday timed to coincide with a visit by King Juan Carlos and the leaders of Spain and Germany, Jose Maria Aznar and Gerhard Schroeder.
Basque police discovered eight grenade launchers with their remote-controlled grenades ready for use just 600 meters (yards) from a new museum due to be opened by the three leaders in the Basque separatist stronghold of Hernani, police press officer Javier Gezala said.
Anti-terrorist sources quoted by the news agency Vasco Press said the attack had been organized by the Basque separatist group ETA.
Anti-terrorist officials quoted by Vasco Press also said that the system of grenade launchers had already been used by ETA previously to carry out attacks.
However, Gezala was not able to confirm that ETA was behind the attacks.
"There was an attempt to launch grenades towards the area of the museum, but we don't know if it was an attack, or just to make a noise," he said.
Aznar, Schroeder and the king, along with Queen Sofia, were due to open the museum, dedicated to sculptor Eduardo Chillida, later in the day.
"There was going to be an attempt to launch grenades in the general direction of the museum. The grenade launchers were fitted with remote firing mechanisms but were badly positioned," Gezala said.
"The grenades would not have hit the museum," he added.
Meanwhile Spain's Interior Minister Jaime Mayor Oreja said that the grenade launchers had "more of propaganda effect than a murderous intention.”
The grenade launchers were found less than 24 hours after French police dealt ETA a new blow with the arrest of its suspected leader Ignacio Gracia Arregui at his villa in southwest France, three days after a major swoop by their Spanish counterparts.
The arrest of Arregui late Friday, and the jailing of 18 suspected Basque radicals came in the wake of a bloody summer campaign by ETA, which is thought to have been behind seven assassinations since mid-July.
Arregui was spending his first night in a high security jail in Paris after being transferred to the French capital Saturday.
The deaths over Spain's "hot summer" bring the number of people killed since ETA abandoned a 14-month ceasefire last December to 12. The group has also carried out a string of bombings across Spain.
Also known as "Inaki de Renteria," Arregui, 44, is suspected by Spanish anti-terrorist officials of leading ETA since 1992, and of masterminding an attempt on the life of Spain's King Juan Carlos in 1995.
His arrest was a further setback for the group, after 300 elite Spanish police agents raided suspected ETA hideouts across Spain Wednesday, and arrested 18 members of EKIN, a group thought to be responsible for selecting ETA's assassination targets.
EKIN also oversees ETA finances and the "urban guerrilla" activities of the youth separatist movement Jarrai, according to Spanish authorities.
Following the crackdown on EKIN, ETA's political wing warned that King Juan Carlos and Aznar "would not be welcome" in Hernani.
The Spanish raids were followed late Thursday by the shooting of former Basque justice minister Jose Ramon Recalde in San Sebastian, and while Madrid celebrated Arregui's arrest, some analysts feared it could spark more bloody ETA reprisals.
Recalde was rushed to hospital and underwent emergency surgery to remove a bullet lodged in his jaw. Doctors have since said he is recovering and out of danger.
ETA, which stands for Euskadi Ta Askatasuna -- Basque Homeland and Liberty -- was founded in 1959 by a small group of Basque students who split with the moderate Basque Nationalist Party in frustration at its non-radical stance.
ETA is fighting for an independent Basque state straddling the Atlantic Pyrenees mountains which mark the border between Spain and France.
In 32 years of armed struggle, the group has been responsible for the deaths of 781 people, according to interior ministry figures -- HERNANI, Spain (AFP)
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