The death of former ETA leader Xabier López Peña overnight on Saturday immediately led to calls from the nationalist abertzale political grouping for talks on the fate of the organization’s ailing prisoners in Spanish jails. López Peña, known as “Thierry,” died in a Paris hospital of a brain hemorrhage in the middle of a trial in the French capital of 10 high-ranking ETA members over the 2007 kidnapping of a Spanish family in France. He was 54.
Among those on the stand is Garikoitz Aspiazu, alias “Txeroki,” with whom López Peña battled for control of ETA. The internal rupture was seen by the abertzale as one of the greatest threats to ETA’s continuance, a situation that was ended only when Thierry was arrested in Bordeaux in 2008. The interior minister at the time, Socialist Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba, described López Peña as the “person with the greatest political and military influence in the organization.”
López Peña had been ETA’s interlocutor with the Spanish government during talks that were initiated in 2004 and that led to the terrorist group’s ceasefire announcement of March 2006. The subsequent negotiations, with the Socialist government of José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, which began in earnest in the summer of 2006, were the longest ever maintained between the Spanish state and ETA. They were held in Oslo, where ETA’s leadership was based. On December 11, 2006 Thierry met Basque Socialist politician Jesús Eguiguren, who had made the first attempts to get ETA to the table under the Aznar administration, in the Norwegian capital.
With talks stalled, López Peña told the government’s representative: “We can attack wherever we want and however we want. If the [peace] process is broken, this will be like Vietnam. We will respond to detentions with an attack in Spain.”
Nineteen days later ETA bombed the new T-4 terminal at Barajas airport in Madrid, killing two Ecuadorian nationals and bringing the process to a halt. López Peña was arrested two years later in France and in an infamous image shouted pro-ETA slogans at television cameras and repeated his threat to turn Spain into Vietnam. He was expelled from the organization three months later.
The death of its former leader comes after ETA issued a statement that last month’s expulsion from Norway of four of its leadership members involved in talks with international mediators could have “negative consequences.”