PARIS – PARIS (AP) — The Basque separatist group ETA was blamed Wednesday for the shooting death of a French policeman outside Paris, as authorities interrogated one suspect and hunted for at least five other assailants who fled the scene.
The death Tuesday of the officer, a 53-year-old father of four, marked the first time ETA has been accused of the death of a French police official.
The suspect who was intercepted — after trying to flee on foot — confessed to being an ETA member, the Paris prosecutor's office said. Ballistics tests suggested the jailed suspect did not fire either of the two fatal shots but did use his weapon in the shootout, it said.
ETA has traditionally used France as a refuge and a staging ground for attacks in Spain. French police have dealt a blow to the group by teaming up with Spanish police and rounding up members hiding out here. Just two weeks ago, the group's suspected leader was arrested in France.
"France has paid a high price for its help against ETA," Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero said at an impromptu news conference in which he accused ETA of the killing.
In France, a statement from President Nicolas Sarkozy's office also blamed "an ETA terrorist commando."
A former ETA member in Spain said the killing did not appear to be a calculated shift in ETA strategy — willful violence in a country long spared the type of attacks waged across the border. Instead, it seemed to result from on-the-spot thinking, he said, speaking on condition of anonymity, citing the sensitivity of the case.
It was the first killing this year blamed on ETA. The last one was a car bomb that killed two Civil Guards in July on the Spanish Mediterranean island of Mallorca.
Events began to unfold Tuesday when, according to police, a suspected ETA commando unit stole several vehicles from a used car dealership 50 kilometers (30 miles) southeast of Paris.
Officers from Dammarie-les-Lys stopped to check out four suspicious vehicles in the neighboring suburb of Villiers-en-Biere, questioning four people, the Paris prosecutor's office said.
At that point, suspects in two other vehicles sped onto the scene and shot at police, fatally wounding officer Jean-Serge Nerin, the prosecutor's office said. Police returned fire. Some of the suspects fled by car, others on foot.
The suspect who was caught was a Spanish Basque wanted on a European arrest warrant issued by authorities in Spain, a French police official said, speaking on anonymity because of department policy.
ETA's alleged leader was arrested in France on Feb. 28. Ibon Gogeascoechea and two other suspected ETA members had been hiding out in a cottage rented with false identity papers when they were apprehended. Gogeascoechea was the fifth ETA leader arrested in Spain or France since May 2008.
Although this is the first killing of a French policeman blamed on ETA, the group has been involved in shootouts with French security forces at least four times since 1988, and four French police officers have been wounded, the Spanish newspaper El Pais reported.
So far this year, 34 ETA members have been arrested: seven in France and the rest in Spain, according to the Spanish Interior Ministry. The figure includes the detainee in the policeman's killing.
Zapatero pledged that Spain and France will "maintain a relentless fight against the criminals of the terrorist gang ETA."
ETA has killed more than 825 people since the late 1960s in its campaign for an independent Basque state in northern Spain and southwestern France. The European Union and the United States consider it a terrorist organization.
Associated Press writers Daniel Woolls in Madrid and Pierre-Antoine Souchard in Paris contributed to this report.