16 May 2019

Leader of Eta rebels arrested in France after 17 years on the run

9:00 pm on 16 May 2019

The political leader of the Basque separatist group Eta has been arrested in the French Alps after 17 years on the run, officials say.

(FILES) This file photo taken on August 23, 2002 shows former ETA activist and pro-independence Basque nationalist  Jose Antonio Urrutikoetxea, alias "Josu Ternera", during a demonstration against the expected illegalisation in Bilbao.

A file photo of José Antonio Urrutikoetxea, also known as Josu Ternera, in Bilbao in 2002. Photo: AFP

In a joint French-Spanish police operation, Josu Ternera - whose real name is José Antonio Urrutikoetxea - was arrested in Sallanches.

He is accused over several Eta killings.

Eta, which waged a violent campaign for Basque independence for more than 40 years, said in 2018 it was disbanding.

The group killed more than 800 people during its campaign of violence before declaring a ceasefire in 2011.

FILE - In this Sept.3, 2000 file photo, Jose Antonio Urruticoetxea Bengoetxea, known by the alias Josu Ternera, a leader of the Basque separatist group ETA, is pictured in Bayonne, southwestern France.

This photo of Josu Ternera was taken in 2000. The failing health of the former political leader of Eta may have led to his arrest. Photo: AP

Reports say Ternera is seriously ill and Spanish police tipped off their French colleagues that he was on his way to hospital, triggering his arrest.

Spanish prosecutors allege that Josu Ternera was involved in a car bomb attack outside a Civil Guard barracks in the northern city of Zaragoza in December 1987, which killed 11 people, including five children.

From 1989 to 2000 he was held in French and Spanish jails.

Eta considered a terrorist group by EU

In an audio announcement in May 2018, he said Eta had "completely dismantled all of its structures" and would "no longer express political positions, promote initiatives or interact with other actors".

He said former members would "continue the struggle for a reunited, independent, socialist, Basque-speaking and non patriarchal Basque Country".

The group began its campaign in 1968, during the Franco military dictatorship, and is considered a terrorist organisation by the European Union.

Ternera was elected to the Basque regional parliament, despite being prosecuted by the Spanish authorities.

Spain's Supreme Court had ordered him to appear before a judge in November 2002 but he never turned up. At that point an international arrest warrant was issued, and Interpol listed him among the most wanted fugitives.


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