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Suspected ETA Members Arrested

January 3, 2000

MADRID, Spain (AP) _ Three suspected members of the armed Basque separatist group ETA were detained on Monday as they were allegedly preparing an attack near the northern city of Bilbao, authorities said.

``Everything indicates that they were preparing an imminent attack,″ Interior Ministry spokesman Fernando Delgado said.

Delgado said he could not confirm reports on Spanish National Television that the target was a Civil Guard patrol, and the most likely method a car-bomb placed in its route through Basauri, a town just outside Bilbao.

Guillermo Merino Bilbao and Jon Urretavizcaya Sahuquillo were arrested in a car they had stolen at gunpoint in the early morning in Basauri and then left the driver tied to a tree nearby.

An anonymous phone call in the name of ETA notified police of the abandoned driver, putting them on the trail of the gunmen who were arrested after a standoff, although no shots were fired, Delgado said.

The third alleged ETA member, Julen Uriarte Iturriaga, was arrested later in Bilbao.

``The investigation is still very much open,″ Delgado said.

ETA, whose name is an acronym for Basque Homeland and Freedom, ended a 14-month cease-fire on Dec. 3, bringing hopes for a negotiated peace crashing down.

Although ETA has yet to carry out an attack since announcing the end of its truce, police last month intercepted two explosives-laden vans they said were primed to explode at an unknown location, probably in Madrid.

ETA is blamed for killing nearly 800 people in bombings and shootings since beginning its violent campaign for an independent Basque state in 1968. Most of group’s victims have been members of the Spanish security forces, such as the paramilitary Civil Guard, that it views as an occupying force.

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