Top ETA chiefs arrested in France

David Pla and Iratxe Sorzabal made up part of Basque terrorist group’s leadership Third boss Josu Ternera is not among the four detained despite early reports to contrary

David Pla.
David Pla.EFE

French police in collaboration with Spain’s Civil Guard have arrested David Pla, 40, and Iratxe Sorzabal, 43, the two people who, along with José Antonio Urrutikoetxea – known as “Josu Ternera” – are considered the current heads of Basque terrorist group ETA.

The operation was carried out at a rural property in the town of Saint-Étienne-de-Baïgorry, in the southwestern Pyrénées-Atlantiques department.

The Spanish Interior Ministry has so far only officially confirmed the arrests of Pla and Sorzabal.

But speaking in Brussels, where he is negotiating Spain’s refugee quotas with his European counterparts, Interior Minister Jorge Fernández Díaz said that a total of four people had been detained. “Two belong to ETA’s political leadership, the topmost leaders and the most wanted,” he said in reference to Pla and Sorzabal.

Despite the fact that initial reports pointed to the possibility that Josu Ternera was also among those detained, it has now been confirmed that he is not one of the four.

Officers had spent several days stationed around the house where, according to their information, a meeting of the entire leadership was due to take place, counter-terrorism unit sources said.

Spanish Interior Minister Jorge Fernández Díaz said the operation meant a “death certificate for ETA”

Díaz said that the operation meant a “death certificate for ETA” and the only thing left was for the group to admit that it has been broken up.

He added that the ETA’s military and logistical structure had already been extinguished and that only this final political part remained. Díaz thanked the Civil Guard and the French authorities for the work, saying “a dark page has been turned.”

Pla and Sorzabal both participated in negotiations relating to the dissolution of the group, which failed to reach an agreement.

Along with Izaskun Lesaka, the pair also made up the three people who on October 20, 2011 read out the statement announcing an end to the terrorist organization’s 40-year campaign of violence.

Iratxe Sorzabal.
Iratxe Sorzabal.

Born in Pamplona in 1975, Pla was identified as the Spanish-speaking voice heard during a ceasefire announcement made on January 10, 2011. He was arrested in France in April 2010 for his alleged relationship with H-Alboka, a group of lawyers that ETA used to send instructions to its imprisoned members. He was released after French police were unable to find any evidence against him and subsequently disappeared. Former Socialist Party Interior Minister Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba categorized him as one of the “strong men” in ETA’s political apparatus.

Iratxe Sorzabal joined ETA at the beginning of the 1990s and has been considered one of the terrorist organization’s top leaders since the end of 2010. Born in Irún in 1971, she was the person who read the statement in Basque announcing the end of the group’s violent activity. As a member of the Ibarla unit, she allegedly took part in three assassinations between 1994 and 1997.

English version by Nick Funnell.

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