Who is Josu Ternera, the former leader of ETA?

José Antonio Urrutikoetxea (Josu Ternera) was born in Miraballes, in Vizcaya, on December 24, 1950 and At 20 he was already an active part of ETA. This Tuesday the trial against the last leader of the terrorist gang is repeated in which he is accused in France of “association of criminals”. A trial that Urrutikoetxea himself has asked to repeat, after he was sentenced to eight years in prison in 2017 without his presence in the courtroom.

During the 70s, Ternera participated in several coups by the terrorist organization, including the theft, in 1971, of more than 3,000 kilos of dynamite in the Basque town of Hernani, part of which would be used in the assassination of the president of the Franco dictatorship Luis Carrero Blanco.

About two years after that, he was already the political boss of the gang, but It was in 1977 when Urrutikoetxea became the head of ETA. He led the terrorist group in the 1980s, the organization’s bloodiest decade.

It was at that stage when Michelin director Luis María Hergueta Guinea was assassinated in 1980 in Vitoria. Two witnesses, convicted of collaborating with ETA, say that Urrutikoetxea asked them for a photo of the company’s leader. On June 25 of that same year, three young men followed Hergueta as he returned to eat at his home and shot him twice in the head. The manager died on the way to the hospital, as reported by the Spanish newspaper El Mundo.

Helgueta’s death is one of the pending cases in Spain for which Urrutikoetxea’s extradition has been requested.

political life

In 1989 he was arrested in France and extradited to Spain in 1995, spent five years in prison. From then until 2002 he held a seat for the Euskal Herritarrok formation, even becoming a member of the Human Rights Commission of the Basque Parliament. Accused of the massacre at the Zaragoza Civil Guard barracks in 1987, in which 11 people died, including five minors, Ternera decides to flee to France.

He was arrested almost 17 years later, in 2019, in the French Alps., the last leader of the gang fell since it was dissolved in 2018. It was Josu Ternera himself who announced the cessation of the terrorist group’s activity. His unmistakable voice read the statement that put an end to the activity of ETA, which left more than 800 dead in its almost 50-year history.


The Spanish Civil Guard and the French Direction Générale de la Sécurité arrested him on May 16, 2019 while he was going to a medical center in the town of Sallanches to treat his cancer. Since then, the former ETA leader has been in provisional prison until in July of last year the justice gave him probation due to his state of health. He currently lives in an apartment in Paris and is controlled by an electronic bracelet.

There are several extradition orders issued by Spain for the former political boss of ETA. The last one, approved by France in January of this year, for the murder of Michelin director Luis María Helgueta Guinea in 1980 in Vitoria. But also others due to the car bomb at the Zaragoza barracks, which killed 11 people, including five children. In October 2020, France agreed to extradite him for participating in the financing of the terrorist organization through herriko taverns.

A new trial

Veal is accused in France for “association of criminals” for having continued to maintain control of the terrorist organization between 2011 and 2013, hiding in Ariège, a French town adjacent to the Spanish border. The former leader of the gang was sentenced in 2017 to eight years in prison by the French justice. Having not been present at the trial, Urrutikoetxea requested, exercising his right, that the trial be repeated in his presence.

Support for the former leader of ETA

On the eve of Tuesday’s trial, more than three hundred intellectuals, jurists and even Nobel laureates signed a manifesto against the prosecution of the ETA leader, whom they consider, according to the text itself, a “peace negotiator.” Veal would be being tried, as stated in the document, for activities that “are directly related to the preparation of the peace negotiations from 2002 to 2005 and, from 2010 onwards, to the agreed roadmap for the resolution of the conflict of the that he was one of the main actors ”. Among the signatories are personalities such as Noam Chomsky or Clementine Autain.