Eta, the Basque separatist group, has threatened to attack British tourists and second-home buyers in the French Basque Country for destroying the region’s culture and heritage.
In an interview with Gara, a newspaper sympathetic to the separatist cause, two masked members said that British and French visitors to the region were part of a wave of colonisation that was eradicating the traditional Basque way of life and language.
An Eta commander, using the alias Gaeuko, said: “If these things do not change, these oppressed territories will become leisure areas for the English, for Parisians and people from Bordeaux.”
With the summer tourist season moving towards its height, the threat from the terrorist organisation will spread alarm among Britons heading to Biarritz and other resorts in southwest France.
Eta, which has killed more than 825 people in a 40-year campaign of violence, has carried out almost all its attacks on Spanish soil. In 2007 two Spanish police officers were murdered in France by Eta terrorists.
There have been isolated attacks on the summer homes on some non-Basques but so far no Britons have been victims. The French chef Alain Ducasse was forced to leave his restaurant near Biarritz two years ago after a wave of bomb attacks.
Eta has carried out robberies on arms dumps in southwest France and used the region to hide bombmaking equipment. The group traditionally used the French Basque Country as a refuge for its terrorists to hide from Spanish police.
In recent years, as co-operation between Madrid and Paris has improved, there have been a series of arrests of Eta leaders hiding out in France, badly depleting the organisation’s strength.
Antonio Camacho, the Spanish Security Minister, who leads the fight against Eta, dismissed the group’s threats as proof that “they were not in touch with the real world”.
In an interview with The Times, Mr Camacho said: “The Basque Country has its own police force, its own judiciary, its own health service and its own language guaranteed by a democratic state. \ proves they don’t live in the real world.
“They have been greatly depleted by co-operation between Spain and France. They only number a few hundred members. We shall continue to make arrests and send them to prison,” he said.
Mr Camacho said that Spain wanted to eradicate the impression, held in some quarters, that Eta was a group of freedom fighters.
“Nobody can defend what they do: threatening the lives of anyone with death to impose their ideas. There should be international rejection of this.”
The Eta members said that the organisation would set out a new strategy by the summer. Despite reports that some dissidents within Eta had tired of using violence, experts said that this group was not strong enough to oppose the hardline faction that backed using bullets and bombs.
Biarritz, the best-known city in the French Basque Country, was transformed in the 19th century into a luxurious holiday resort popular with Queen Victoria, Edward VII and other members of the British Royal Family.
The seaside town became a favourite summer resort for film stars and actors. The region has become popular recently with Britons buying second homes or relocating to France.