Fugitive ex-Eta leader Josu Ternera arrested in France
Basque terrorist groups former political chief tracked down after 16 years on the run
A former leader of the Basque terrorist group Eta has been arrested in France after spending more than 16 years on the run, the Spanish government said on Thursday.
Jose Antonio Urrutikoetxea Bengoetxea, better known as Josu Ternera, was once Etas political chief.
He had been sought by Spanish authorities since November 2002, when he failed to appear in court in connection with an attack on a police barracks in the northern city of Zaragoza in 1987 which left 11 people dead, including six children.
Spains interior ministry said Ternera had been detained in the early hours of the morning in Sallanches in the French Alps following a joint operation by the Guardia Civil and Frances General Directorate of Interior Security (DGSI).
The terrorist had been living near Saint-Gervais-les-Bains, an area very popular with those who practise winter sports, the ministry said. The town lies very close to the borders between France, Switzerland and Italy.
Eta, which stands for Basque homeland and freedom, killed more than 800 people in more than four decades of violence aimed at establishing an independent Basque state. It abandoned its armed struggle in 2011 and formally dissolved itself last year.
Ternera, who is thought to be seriously ill, recorded the final declaration announcing the groups end in May 2018.
Before that, he had taken part in negotiations with Spains socialist government but was shunted aside in 2006 after the talks failed as more hardline elements took control.
The interior ministry said the hunt for Ternera, called Operation Stolen Childhood, had followed many leads to trace him to the French Alps.
The joint operation between the Guardia Civil and the DGSI demonstrates our commitment to the fight against terrorism and to making amends to all its victims, it said.
The efforts undertaken to find and arrest Josu Ternera are also in place in the hunt for other terrorists who have fled justice, which is why the government remains in contact with the police forces and intelligence agencies of third countries.
Spains acting prime minister, Pedro Snchez, said the operation was proof of the effectiveness of the cooperation between France and Spain.
Id like to recognise the efforts of the Guardia Civil and the French intelligence service, the DGSI, in arresting the Eta leader Josu Ternera in France, he tweeted.
And today, more than ever, I send a huge hug to the victims of terrorism.
Covite, the collective of victims of terrorism, welcomed news of Terneras arrest.
Weve spent years calling for the state security services to dissolve Eta, said Covites president, Consuelo Ordez.
This is very good news and we hope that Josu Terneras arrest will be followed by the detention of the other members of the terrorist group who have fled and still need to face Spanish justice.
Eta was founded as a cultural organisation in 1959 when the region was being brutally repressed under the Franco dictatorship. Its aim was to establish an independent Basque state in northern Spain and southern France.
It took up armed struggle the following decade and, between 1968 and 2010, the group murdered 829 people, almost half of them civilians, in bombing and shootings.
It also targeted state security forces and in 1973 assassinated the then Spanish prime minister, Luis Carrero Blanco with a bomb so powerful his car was lifted 20 metres into the air.
But it was the atrocities it committed against civilians that eventually turned the tide.
The bombing of a Barcelona supermarket in 1987, in which 21 people were killed, provoked revulsion, while the murder of a young local politician, Miguel ngel Blanco, a decade later brought 6 million people on to the streets of Spain in protest.
In April last year, Eta apologised for its actions, accepting that it bore direct responsibility for years of bloodshed and misery.
We know that we caused a lot of pain during that long period of armed struggle, including damage that can never be put right, it said. We wish to show our respect for those who were killed or wounded by Eta and those who were affected by the conflict. We are truly sorry.
The statement recognised that Etas mistakes or mistaken decisions had led to the deaths of people who had nothing to do with the conflict, both in the Basque country and beyond.