Josu Ternera, one of the most influential leaders of former Basque separatist group ETA, was arrested in France yesterday after more than 16 years on the run, Spain’s interior ministry said.
Jose Antonio Urrutikoetxea Bengoetxea, who used the alias Josu Ternera and was once ETA’s supreme chief, was detained “in the early hours of the morning today in Sallanches in the French Alps,” the ministry said.
“He was a hugely important person in ETA,” said Florencio Dominguez, head of the Memorial Centre for Victims of Terrorism in Spain’s Basque Country and author of a book on Ternera.
After becoming one of the group’s leaders in the late 1970s, Ternera then took the top spot.
Thought to be the instigator of ETA’s bloody strategy of combining car bomb and shooting attacks in the 1980s, he was also one of the proponents of trying to reach a peace deal later on.
Then in May 2018, while still on the run after avoiding arrest, he recorded the “final declaration” announcing the separatist group had completely dissolved.
According to Spain’s Interior Minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska, he is wanted in France and Spain.
The Madrid-based National Court, which deals with terror cases, is preparing to ask for his extradition to Spain.
- Arrested at hospital -
Created in 1959 at the height of Francisco Franco’s dictatorship, ETA waged a relentless campaign of killings and kidnappings in its fight for an independent Basque homeland in northern Spain and southwest France, leaving at least 853 dead.
Weakened by the arrest of its leaders, ETA announced a permanent ceasefire in 2011 and began formally surrendering its arms in 2017.
Then last year in May, it formally dissolved.
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez welcomed the arrest of Ternera, saying “Franco-Spanish cooperation has once again demonstrated its effectiveness.”