Ex-ETA leader Josu Ternera detained in France

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A longtime chief of the Basque militant separatist group ETA was arrested Thursday in a French Alps town after being on the run for 17 years, Spanish authorities said, proudly announcing the capture of a man accused of crimes against humanity.

Spain's acting interior minister, Fernando Grande-Marlaska, said France should allow Spain to try Ternera, whose real name is Jose Antonio Urrutikoetxea, before he served his French sentence.

"He was a hugely important person in ETA", said Florencio Dominguez, head of the Memorial Centre for Victims of Terrorism in Spain's Basque Country and author of a book on Ternera, becoming one of the group's leaders in the late 1970s and then taking the top spot.

The militant group declared a ceasefire in 2011 and gave up its arms in 2017, bringing Western Europe's last major armed insurgency to a close.

Ternera was a long-time leader of a group estimated to have killed more than 850 people during a 50-year guerrilla campaign aimed at creating a Basque state in northern Spain and southwest France. Ternera announced a year ago that it had dismantled all its structures.

Then past year in May, it formally dissolved.

In a tweet, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez congratulated the security forces involved in the arrest, which he said showed the "efficiency" of cooperation between France and Spain.

Spain wants to try Ternera over accusations he ordered the bombing of a Civil Guard barracks in the Spanish city of Zaragoza in 1987 that killed 11 people, including six children. The group had been pressing for his arrest for years.

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.

The ETA attack against Civil Guard barracks in Vic in May 1991.

From 1989 to 2000 he was held in French and Spanish jails.

He was elected lawmaker for Herri Batasuna, a radical Basque nationalist party widely considered to be ETA's political wing.

He had been on the run since 2002 when, while he was serving as a member of the Basque regional parliament, Spain's supreme court issued an worldwide arrest warrant against him over the 1987 attack.

Before that, he had taken part in negotiations with Spain's Socialist government and was shunted aside in 2006 after the talks failed as more hardline elements took control.

That infuriated some of ETA's victims, who said the separatist group should first and foremost condemn its history of violence and shed light on more than 350 unsolved crimes.

Sources at Spain's interior ministry are quoted as saying Ternera has been living near Saint-Gervais-les-Bains, an Alpine village near Mont Blanc. "The town lies very close to the border between France, Switzerland and Italy".

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