Indicated by an atrocious attack and promoter of secret negotiations with the Spanish government, Josu Ternera was for nearly four decades one of the great references of the Basque armed separatist organization ETA.
This Thursday it is expected that the justice of France, where he was detained, will release him with an electronic bracelet, after a long career that in his penultimate chapter included the announcement of the dissolution of the organization.
« ETA wants to inform the Basque people of the end of its trajectory, » José Antonio Urrutikoetxea Bengoetxea – his real name – said on May 3, 2018 in an audio message.
Gone are 40 years of violence for the independence of the Basque Country and Navarra, and a trail of at least 853 fatalities, as well as a long list of kidnappings, extortion and threats to businessmen by this organization.
Born in 1950 in Miravalles, a town near Bilbao, Ternera joined the armed group in the late 1960s, during the Franco dictatorship.
In his first years of activity, according to the press, he participated in the theft of the explosives used in 1973 in the deadly attack against Admiral Luis Carrero Blanco, then considered the successor of Franco.
He quickly climbed the organization’s chain of command to the top starting in the late 1970s.
– « Proud » member of ETA –
Ternera « has associated his name indelibly with the macabre history of the terrorist organization, » of which he was « one of the main leaders » for decades, writes Florencio Domínguez, director of the Memorial Center for victims of terrorism and author of the biography. « Josu Ternera, a life at ETA ».
In that period, Domínguez recalls, « a large part of the greatest atrocities committed by the gang took place. »
« He was one of the leaders of ETA at the time of the deadliest attacks in the 1980s, » adds Gorka Landaburu, editor of Cambio16 magazine and survivor of an ETA bombing attack.
Spain claims Ternera for her alleged involvement in a car bomb attack on the Civil Guard barracks house in Zaragoza, which left 11 dead in 1987, including four girls aged 3, 6 and 7 and two teenagers.
« Veal is the grandfather of the organization … respected for his career » even when he was removed from the top leadership by the most radical in the mid-2000s, adds Landaburu.
Arrested in 1989 in France, he was sentenced to ten years in prison after a trial in which he made his principles clear. « I am, have been and always will be a member of ETA and I am proud to be one, » he said then.
In 1996 he was expelled to Spain, where he was again imprisoned until 2000.
During his seclusion, he was elected in 1998 to the Basque regional deputy of the Euskal Herritarrok coalition, participated by the radical separatist formation Herri Batasuna, considered the political arm of ETA and later outlawed.
– Interlocutor from Madrid –
Called by the Spanish justice in 2002 to testify about the Zaragoza attack, Ternera escaped and was not detained until more than 16 years later, on May 16, 2019 in the parking lot of a hospital in the French Alps. According to the Spanish press, he suffers from cancer and at that time he was going to the hospital to be treated.
« After burning his identity as an active militant in terrorist actions (after his arrest in France in 1989, ndlr), he has been a more political man » and « has served as a bridge man » between the armed wing and the movement’s politician, indicates José Luis Orella, professor at the Madrid CEU San Pablo University.
« The prestige that he had and the main weight that he had carried in the terrorist organization … presented him as one of the best interlocutors with the government, » he adds.
Ternera played a preponderant role in the secret negotiations held since 2005 in Switzerland and Norway with emissaries from the socialist government of José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, until being replaced in 2006 by more radical elements.
Despite his departure, Ternera was a « key player » in the end of ETA, said former Basque Socialist leader Jesús Eguiguren, who participated in the secret talks with ETA.
« It was shown that he really wanted to end terrorism, » says Eguiguren.
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