Former ETA leader Josu Ternera arrested after 17 years on the run

Josu Ternera: Leader of Eta Basque rebels arrested in France

Josu Ternera: Leader of Eta Basque rebels arrested in France

Josu Ternera, a former leader of the Basque separatist group ETA - accused by Spanish authorities of taking part in a 1987 attack that killed 11 people, has been arrested in France, according to Spain's Ministry of the Interior.

Spain's Interior Ministry said Ternera was arrested early on Thursday in Sallanches, a town of 16,000 in the French Alps, in a joint operation by French and Spanish security forces.

Just a few months earlier, in June 1987, ETA had perpetrated a bomb attack against an Hipercor retail store in Barcelona, killing 21 people and injuring 45.

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.

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.

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

Grande-Marlaska said that Spain will ask France to extradite Ternera to stand trial for his alleged crimes, before he completes any possible prison sentences in the neighbouring country.

Prosecutors said he will be brought before the Paris prosecutor's office on Friday.

"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, told The Associated Press in Madrid that Ternera was a "macabre symbol".

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

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez welcomed the arrest of Ternera, saying "Franco-Spanish cooperation has once again demonstrated its effectiveness".

Spain wants France to allow it to try Ternera before he serves his French sentence.

Investigators have tracked Ternera's links to ETA since its violent activities shot it to global prominence in the 1970s.

He's been wanted by Spanish authorities since 2002, when he failed to appear for a court appearance in connection with an attack on police barracks that killed 11 people, including six children, in 1987.

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

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

"Basque society is moving toward the future ... but with a critical view toward its past and a commitment in the present and future to respect human rights and pluralism", he said.

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