Separatist group ETA’s ‘most wanted’ Josu Ternera arrested in France

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MADRID (Reuters) – ETA kingpin Josu Ternera, accused by Spain of taking part in a 1987 attack by the since dissolved Basque separatist group that killed 11 people, was arrested in France early on Thursday.

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FILE PHOTO: Veteran ETA member Jose Antonio Urrutikoetxea, “Josu Ternera”, smiles after being released from prison January 14, 2000/File Photo

Ternera, 69, also known as Jose Antonio Urrutikoetxea, was ETA’s “most wanted” leader on both side of the Pyrenees, Spain’s interior ministry said in a statement.

He was arrested on a warrant issued by a Paris court that convicted him in June 2017 of belonging to a terrorist group and sentenced him to eight years in prison, a French judicial source said.

Ternera had been a fugitive since 2002 when, while he was serving as a lawmaker in the Basque regional parliament, Spain’s supreme court issued a separate international arrest warrant against him over his alleged involvement in the 1987 attack.

He was detained in a joint Franco-Spanish operation in the alpine Haute Savoie region near France’s border with Switzerland and Italy.

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

The separatist group is estimated to have killed more than 850 people during a 50-year guerrilla campaign that was aimed at creating a Basque state in northern Spain and southwest France.

ETA (Euskadi Ta Askatasuna, or Basque Country and Freedom) declared a ceasefire in 2011 and handed over weapons in April 2017, bringing Western Europe’s last major armed insurgency to a close.

It announced in May 2018 that it had dismantled all its structures.

“Franco-Spanish cooperation once again demonstrated its effectiveness,” acting Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said in a statement welcoming Ternera’s arrest.

Reporting by Sabela Ojea, Andres Gonzalez and Emmanuel Jarry in Paris; Writing by Ingrid Melander; editing by John Stonestreet