Basque ‘terrorists’ were firemen on holiday

Spanish authorities admitted on Saturday 20 March that the five men on a surveillance video they had identified as Basque “terrorists” were in fact Spanish firemen on holiday.

The day before, France and Spain released images of the five taken on a closed-circuit television camera at a supermarket outside Paris, saying they were members of the Basque separatist group ETA and suspected of involvement in the killing of a French policeman on Tuesday.

“This morning (Saturday) we contacted the French authorities to tell them that the images were those of people working as firemen for the Catalan regional government,” said a spokeswoman for the police and fire service in the northeastern region of Catalonia.

Spanish Interior Minister Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba admitted an “error” and said the authorities “could probably have done things better.” Spanish Deputy Prime Minister Maria Teresa Fernandez de la Vega admitted that the “confusion” was regrettable but said it was vital “to continue to work as we have done” to combat ETA.

One of the five firemen shown on the video said he was stunned by the affair.

“What bothers me is that we saw on the Internet that we were considered, not suspects, but actual members of ETA. That’s the problem, that we were faced with an unwarranted accusation,” he told Spanish national radio by telephone.

Judge rejects deal on Ground Zero Health claims

On the 18th of March, judge Alvin K. Hellerstein rejected a settlement worth $657.5 million between the City of New York and some 10,000 rescue and cleanup workers  who say they suffered health damages from toiling at ground zero after  the 2001 terrorist attack, telling lawyers that it did not provide enough compensation to  plaintiffs and needed to be renegotiated under his supervision.

He said that he was concerned that the fees going to the plaintiffs’  lawyers — about one-third of the settlement — would take “a very large  bite” and that he planned to review them. Judge Hellerstein also said that the terms of the settlement were too complicated for the plaintiffs to be able to reach an “intelligent decision” on whether to accept it.

The settlement, reached on March 11, required approval from 95 percent of the plaintiffs to take effect. Judge Hellerstein said that once a new one was negotiated, he would make himself available to plaintiffs to explain their options, rather than leave that to their lawyers.

“I want transparency. I want accountability. I want judicial control over this process,” he said at the hearing. “They’ve got to come up with an agreement under judicial supervision that will make us all proud.”

Legal experts inmass personal-injury litigation said said that whether Judge Hellerstein had the authority to reject the settlement was subject to debate.

“There has to be additional negotiations to come up with a better and fair settlement,” he said. “I will not preside over a settlement based on fear or ignorance.”