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Former Basque separatist leader acquitted on one charge

September 1, 2021

A French court did not find enough evidence to uphold Josu Ternera's conviction for membership of ETA between 2011 and 2013. The former separatist leader still has another case to answer to.

Josu Ternera pictured at a court appearance in France in 2020
Jose Antonio Urrutikoetxea Bengoetxea, better known as Josu Ternera, will go on trial again on another charge of being an ETA member between the years 2002 and 2005Image: Lewis Joly/AP/picture alliance

Josu Ternera, the former leader of the Basque armed separatist group ETA, has been acquitted by a French court. Ternera, whose full name is Jose Antonio Urrutikoetxea Bengoetxeathe, had been sentenced in absentia for being part of a terrorist group.

Following his arrest in 2019 Ternera asked for a retrial. The Correctional Court in Paris could find no evidence that he had been part of the organization during the period in question.

"Living in hiding with a false name and a false surname, but not false documents, cannot constitute a material element or an act" to prepare attacks, the presiding judge said during the ruling.

Former ETA leader still faces another membership charge

Ternera, who has been on parole since July 2020, will find himself in court again in September. In this case, he is accused of ETA membership between the years 2002 and 2005. He was also sentenced to seven years imprisonment for this charge after being convicted in absentia.

Ternera's lawyer Laurent Pasquet-Marinacce said he was pleased with Wednesday's outcome saying: "We are relieved and satisfied." Marinacce said his client had played an active role in the peace process.

Ternera had been on the run for 16 years and was arrested in May 2019. He has been wanted in connection with an attack on civil guard barracks in the Spanish city of Zaragoza. Eleven people were killed in that attack in 1987, six of them children.

DocFilm - The Row over ETA Prisoners - A Difficult Reconciliation in the Basque Country

What was ETA?

The Basque Country is an autonomous region spanning the border area between France and Spain.

ETA was an armed separatist group that wanted Basque independence.  It emerged under the Spanish dictatorship of Franciso Franco in 1959; he had overseen the banning of the Basque language along with cultural traditions and political organization.

The group killed more than 800 people in a violent campaign spanning four decades. Many of those targeted were members of Spain's police force. 

In October 2011, after several similar earlier ceasefires that held only for brief periods, ETA announced a "definitive cessation of its armed activity." In 2017 ETA surrendered its weapons and eventually disbanded in 2018.  

kb/msh (AFP, EFE, Reuters)