Security forces have arrested the alleged leader of the Basque separatist group ETA, Spain’s interior ministry said, in what is described as a “hard blow” to the militant organization.

Spanish authorities identified Mikel Irastorza as “currently the maximum leader” of ETA. In a statement, they said Irastorza and two more people were arrested Saturday morning by French police, working in tandem with Spanish agents, in the French town of Ascain near the Spanish border.

Spanish police said Irastorza, who had been in hiding since 2008, became ETA’s leading member a year ago.

A Spanish man and a French woman were arrested on suspicion that they had given shelter to Irastorza in a house they owned.

ETA was formed in the late 1950s during the dictatorship of Francisco Franco and aims to establish an independent Basque state in northern Spain and southern France.

The group killed over 800 people over several decades through bombings and execution-style killings.

However, ETA has been severely weakened in recent years after hundreds of its members were arrested and some of its weapons were seized.

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