MADRID, Spain – Police in France captured the elusive former leader of the Basque ETA (search) rebel group Friday as well as the separatist group's logistics chief, officials said.
Felix Alberto Lopez de la Calle (search) had been on the run in France since November 2000 when he escaped house arrest at a hotel in the southwestern town of Bayonne by sliding down two stories along a rope made of sheets.
French police said they arrested the former rebel chief near the southwestern town of Angouleme. Spanish officials were not available to comment on his arrest.
Lopez de la Calle took over the ETA leadership in 1992 after police devastated the group by arresting most of its senior members in a raid in the French town of Bidart. In recent years in stepped down from that post but has been involved in planning group actions, Spanish media reported.
Earlier French and Spanish police arrested the alleged ETA logistics chief, Felix Ignacio Esparza Luri (search), outside the city of Dax, Interior Minister Angel Acebes said.
"He was one of the members of the terrorist organization we were most interested in arresting," Acebes told a news conference in Madrid. Acebes said he was wanted for seven killings and a kidnapping.
"He was part of the terrorist organization ETA's leadership, was in charge of logistics and also worked to coordinate logistics and operations for the rest of the gang's units," Acebes said.
Esparza Luri, 41, was in charge of sneaking explosives and stolen vehicles across the border from France for attacks, the Spanish news agency Efe said, citing police sources.
The government had initially said ETA was its prime suspect in the March 11 rail bombings (search) in Madrid, which killed 191 people, even as evidence of an Islamic link emerged. Authorities now believe radical Islamic militants carried out the attacks, and police have 15 people in custody.
Acebes praised France for its cooperation in fighting ETA. Last year, police in France arrested 37 suspected ETA members or collaborators, including several top leaders. Police in Spain arrested another 120.
Spanish officials have said recently that ETA is against the ropes, and point out that just three people were killed in its attacks last year, compared to 23 in 2000 and 15 in 2001.
ETA stands for Basque Homeland and Freedom (search). It is blamed for more than 800 killings since the late 1960s with bombings and shootings aimed at carving out a Basque homeland from territory straddling northern Spain and southwest France.