Eta chief arrested after 17 years on run

Eta chief arrested after 17 years on run

Eta chief arrested after 17 years on run

The fugitive former leader of Eta, the Basque separatist group, was arrested yesterday in the French Alps after 17 years on the run.

The arrest was made early Thursday morning in Sallanches, in the French Alps, in a joint operation between French and Spanish law enforcement.

He is accused over several Eta killings. Spanish authorities said Ternera, 69, had been living near Saint-Gervais-les-Bains, a French winter sports haven close to the borders of France, Switzerland and Italy.

Ternera was a long-time leader of a group estimated to have killed more than 850 people during a 50-year guerrilla campaign aimed at creating a Basque state in northern Spain and southwest France.

Urrutikoetxea joined ETA in 1968, the year that the group committed its first crime: the assassination of a Civil Guard officer named José Antonio Pardines.

French media said it was likely Ternera would be taken to appear before a judge in the nearby town of Bonneville.

Ternera was convicted of belonging to a terrorist group in 2017 and sentenced to eight years in prison.

Grande-Marlaska said Madrid would seek to prosecute Ternera but "without prejudice to the criminal responsibilities in France".

"He could serve [his sentence] in France, but he must be sent to Spain temporarily to be judged and later be returned to France".

"French-Spanish cooperation has proven its efficiency once more", acting Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said Thursday.

"The arrest of Josu Ternera has been a maximum priority", Grande-Marlaska said.

Carmen Ladrón de Guevara, a lawyer representing an association of ETA's victims, said Ternera was "one of the most symbolic members of ETA".

Thought to be the instigator of ETA's bloody strategy of combining auto bomb and shooting attacks in the 1980s, he was also one of the proponents of reaching a peace deal later on.

Hugely influential within the group, Ternera, who is believed to be seriously ill, recorded the "final declaration" announcing the separatist group had completely dissolved in May 2018. Ternera was one of the negotiators who sat down with Spanish government envoys for talks to try to end the group's activities in the mid-2000s.

ETA, whose dissolution Ternera announced a year ago, bombed a police barracks in the city of Zaragoza in December 1987, killing 11 people including six children.

The operation to find Ternera was called "Operation Stolen Childhood".

Spanish courts are seeking him for his alleged part in that massacre, as well as for allegedly being involved in the killing of businessman Luis Maria Hergueta Guinea in 1980.

The elected leader of the Basque Country region in northern Spain, Iñigo Urkullu, said Basque society had moved past its painful past.

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