Facing terror charges, ETA’s last boss apologizes for deaths

PARIS (AP) – The last known head of the ETA, the now extinct Basque separatist terrorist group, goes to trial on Monday in Paris for terrorism charges over its role in ending a conflict “absurd” , Which killed hundreds of people and terrorized Spain for half a century.

Josu UrutticoAttesia led the ETA during one of its bloodiest periods, when its victims were found to have killed sleeping children in the Zaragoza Police Complex, where the memorial of their stolen lives now stands. In a rare interview 17 years after the run, he offered an apology, advised other separatist movements against resorting to violence and portrayed himself as a changed man.

It is a purported claim for those who lost loved ones in the ETA violence, which caused about 850 deaths and thousands of injuries and hijacked the Basque and Spanish political debate for decades. Just because he oversees the end of ETA in 2018, they stress, it does not erase his past.

Spanish anti-terrorism investigators have portrayed him as a bloodthirsty advocate of violence who only had opportunistic talks after the police reprimand and the shrinking base of Basque separatists weakened the ETA.

Now 69, has fallen short of a battle with cancer and faces the prospect of spending the twilight of a life devoted to Basque freedom behind bars, the man who cares for his cop aka Josu Ternera, or “The Called “widely known by the calf”, saying “sorry” irreparable damage due to ETA violence “because it sought to create an independent state between Spain and France between the Pyrenees mountains.

But even when he admits remorse, he still adds a warning.

Asked if he would apologize to the families of the ETA victims, he told the Associated Press: “Of course, (I apologize for something we can’t repair).”

But he insisted that the Basque independence movement also suffered from the violence inherent in the Spanish dictatorship that had been in existence for more than four decades. “The Basque country was entering into cultural repression”, he said, “and we had to maximize it to get it out.”

Some victims of ETA said they want more than an apology; They want him to face justice.

Lucia Ruiz said, “I was not trying to take revenge against Josu Ternera, who was 10 years old when she was wounded in a 1987 blast targeting the Military Police barracks in Zaragoza, where she along with her father Lived with a civil guard. “But this gentleman tried to kill me and I want to pay the price for that. It is my right as a Spanish citizen.”

Since his long-awaited arrest last year, UrruticoAtexia has been on a campaign to remove the terrorist label and dismiss himself as a repentant, aging peacemaker.

Due to increased international support, he won a conditional release in a pending lawsuit in July, after attorneys argued his poor health made him unsafe to contract coronaviruses. He is now living with a professor friend near Place de la Republique, Paris, where he is trying to get a college diploma and is allowed a few hours with an electronic bracelet.

In a petition published on Saturday, former Sin Féin leader Gerry Adams, academic social critic Noam Chomsky, separatist Catalan former president Carles Puigdemont and more than 250 other intellectuals called on France and Spain to end the “humiliating and unbearable” prosecution of Ukricoletexia did.

Putting him to trial, they argue, “France is clearly criminalizing all negotiators and questioning all present and future peace processes in the world.”

But across the Pyrenees, those calls are rejected by the vast majority of Spain’s political mainstream. The Spanish newspaper El Mundo described what it called “an operation to whitewash”. Relatives of the victims of the violent attacks and ETA victims say the campaign humiliates them.

Ruiz and Spanish officials believe that Ureticocotaxia, as the leader of the ETA, either accepted or knew of the car, which was loaded with dynamite, exploded under his window at the Zaragoza Civil Guard headquarters Where she lived with her father, mother and sister.

Three ETA attackers were tried and imprisoned as executors of the attack, killing 11 people, including six minors, all of whom were her neighbors or acquaintances.

“Now he presents himself as the protector of the country,” said Ruiz. It would be difficult to prove in court that he carried out the attack, he said, “Unfortunately these people do not leave a paper trail. But this gentleman is the murderer whose murder is written in big letters.”

Urrutikoetxea denied any role, saying, “They want me to respond to something that I had nothing to do with.”

His life reflects the trajectory of the ETA, whose initial words stand for “Basque Homeland and Freedom” in the Basque language and were coined during the 1939–1975 dictatorship of General Francisco Franco.

He was involved in the year of the first fatal ETA attack in 1968. Classified as a terrorist organization by the US and many countries, the ETA shot to international prominence after the 1970s attacks and kidnappings.

The reason for the ETA was political and social division within Spain’s Basque society and widely rejected in the rest of Spain. It had some significant support among separatist-minded Baisis, but many other Baisis were praised by its tactics and silenced by the group’s terror.

Many Spaniards thought that after Franco’s death in 1975 the ETA should have been displaced with a return to democracy, not continuing violent attacks on the state and its citizens. The ETA killed politicians, policemen and judges but also ordinary people; In 1987, a car bomb attack in Barcelona supermarket by ETA killed 21 people and injured 45.

In the late 1980s EuraticoKatexia led the ETA, was arrested in 1989 and spent the next 11 years behind bars in France and Spain. As the violent statutes of the ETA lost, UrruticoAtexia served as a legalist in the Basque Regional Parliament and negotiator in talks with Spanish envoys to end the group’s activities.

Blamed for his alleged role in the Zaragoza attack, when he was on a parliamentary trip to Switzerland in 2002, he was Spain’s most fugitive until his arrest outside a hospital in the French Alps in May 2019.

Ruiz said she broke the news of her husband’s arrest of UrguticoAtaxia in the morning. His phone started ringing and he did not stop taking the phone till late at night.

“At first, it was a tremendous pleasure that he is no longer in the race,” said Ruiz, who may have had information on more than 300 unsolved ETA murders in UrutticoAtaxia.

Urrutikoetxea claims that he was under calm French police protection for years.

“You can’t say that I was living clumsy,” he said. “The French government was aware and directly involved, as they facilitated the possibility of traveling to me for peace talks in Switzerland and Norway, despite being on Interpol’s most-wanted list.”

France’s Ministry of Justice and the Interior Ministry would not comment on their claims.

ETA gave up its weapons in 2017, and in an audio recording released on 3 May 2018 announcing the final dissolution of ETA, UrutticoAxia read the statement.

He said, “We had to reach the end of the confrontation and create the conditions and open the way to peace, whatever the expense … for generations to come,” including his six grandchildren.

Spanish and French officials have not forgotten ETA’s past. Spain wants him to commit crimes against humanity, multiple murders and trying to relate to a terrorist organization.

Meanwhile, he faces justice this week in decades, in two back-to-back Paris trials where he has been charged with a “criminal association with a view to preparing a terrorist organization” for alleged terrorist plots. In 2000 and 2010.

He was already convicted in absentia in both cases and sentenced to a total of 15 years in prison, but after his arrest he asked to withdraw.

“This charge is for those actions when I was preparing the ground to work towards the peace process. It is absurd that they want to judge me ”, he said.

His lawyer plans to request a delay in Monday’s hearing for procedural reasons. Once the French trial ends, France has agreed to extradite Urruticoatexia to Spain, although her defense has appealed.

Despite some support in France for his cause, French President Emmanuel Macron has emphasized the ETA’s “heinous crimes”, stating that “political reconciliation and the renunciation of weapons do not erase anything.”

Ruiz, a prominent member of Spain’s Association for Victimism of Terrorism, rejected UrutticoAttaxia’s assertion of himself as a “man of peace”.

He said, “He never approached us to apologize and I would have forgiven him even if I had doubts.” I want him to be seen taking a stand in court, ”she said, standing at the site of the ETA attack on the Civil Guard.

Urrutikoetxea says the victims are “politicized by the Spanish government” and prefer to talk about the future.

“There is pain, of families,” he said. “What will be the solution? Nothing … You have to be ready to move forward. “

For Gazka Fernandez Soldevilla, a historian with the Foundation and Memorial for Terrorism Victims in the Basque region’s capital Vitoria, efforts to dissolve the ETA should be considered separate from blood crimes committed to those habits.

Basque society, he said, is divided: “There is one part that wants to turn the page unread, and another side that wants to get a lesson for democracy out of it. To conclude, punish oneself Not for, but to heal wounds and try to become a more coherent, harmonious society. “

This will not happen, Fernandez said, “if it’s all done then try to forget.”


Parra reported from Zaragoza, Spain. Nicholas Vaux-Montagy contributed in Lyon, France.


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