Leader of Basque armed group ETA seized in France after 17 years on the run
A file photo of Antonio Urrutikoetxea Bengoechea, aka 'Josu Ternera', leaving the Nanclares de Oca prison in Vitoria, northern Spain, Jan. 14, 2000. EFE-EPA FILE/DAVID AGUILAR
Paris, May 16 (efe-epa).- A longtime political leader within the Basque separatist terror organization ETA was arrested on Thursday in the French Alps after having been on the lam since 2002, judicial sources confirmed to EFE.
José Antonio Urrutikoetxea, known by his nom de guerre "Josu Ternera," was arrested in a joint operation conducted by agents of France's General Directorate for Internal Security and the Spanish Civil Guard.
The 68-year-old fugitive was found in the quaint alpine town of Sallanches, near the border with Switzerland.
Sources in France's judiciary told EFE that he would be immediately transferred to a penitentiary to start serving the eight-year prison sentence he was handed in absentia in 2017 after being found guilty of terror crimes.
The Paris court at the time convicted him on charges of leading ETA's political arm and for his activities in France and Norway, where he remained between 2011-13.
Over a long clandestine career, Urrutikoetxea narrowly evaded capture by law enforcement on several occasions.
He eluded authorities in July 2015 when a special operations unit raided a farm in the Pyrenees where they thought he was hiding with his partner and daughter, although they only found the latter two.
A few months later, police were still hot on his trail when they found his son, Egoitz, in Saint-Denis, a suburb to the north of Paris. Egoitz was also wanted for belonging to ETA and had three convictions issued against him in absentia.
His father had risen through the ranks of the separatist group over more than five decades.
Urrutikoetxea was the group's second-in-command during most of the 1980s and became its main figurehead following the death of Domingo "Txomin" Iturbe Abasolo in 1987.
In 1998, he was elected to the regional parliament of the Basque Country after he ran with the left-wing pro-independence coalition Euskal Herritarrok ("Basque Citizens"). The party was later banned for its ties to ETA.
He is wanted by Spanish authorities for allegedly committing crimes against humanity, as he has been linked to several terror attacks carried out by ETA.
He fled Spain as he was being investigated by the supreme court for allegedly masterminding the bombing of a Civil Guard barracks in 1987 in the northeastern city of Zaragoza that killed 11 people, including five children.