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TERRORISM

Suspected ETA chief dies in Paris hospital

The suspected leader of the Basque separatist group ETA, who has been in French jails since his arrest in 2008, has died in a Paris hospital aged 54, a police source said Saturday.

Suspected ETA chief dies in Paris hospital
Javier Lopez Pena is seized by police in May 2008 in Bordeaux. Photo: Nicolas Tucat/AFP

Javier Lopez Pena, who used the alias Thierry, was believed to have been one of the masterminds of a 2006 car bomb attack at Madrid airport that killed two and ended a ceasefire by the banned group.

He died overnight Friday in the Pitie-Salpetriere hospital after suffering a stroke, the police source and a Basque prisoner support group said.

Pena had been on the run since 1983 before his arrest in May 2008 along with other suspected ETA members when police raided an apartment in the southwestern French city of Bordeaux.

He took the place of ETA's political chief Josu Ternera in 2006 during the outfit's failed peace negotiations with then prime minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero's government, according to Spanish anti-terrorism sources.

Pena was seen as a hardliner and reportedly pushed for ETA to end a ceasefire it had called in the middle of the last decade.

ETA announced a "permanent ceasefire" in March 2006 but formally called it off in June 2007, citing frustration with the lack of concessions on the part of the government in their tentative peace process.

Spanish police suspect Pena ordered the assassination of former Socialist town councillor Isaias Carrasco in 2008, just two days before a general election.

Pena joined ETA in 1980. Three years later he was detained in the French city of Bayonne and jailed for his involvement in ETA's extortion ring.

The outfit partially financed its activities by demanding that businesses in the Basque region pay a "revolutionary tax".

Pena is believed to have occupied several positions in ETA, including being responsible for the group's explosives and heading its military apparatus, before becoming the leader of the outfit.

ETA is blamed for more than 800 deaths in a four-decade campaign of bombings and shootings for the independence of the Basque homeland, which straddles northern Spain and southwestern France.

Considered a terrorist group by the European Union and the United States, it announced in October 2011 that it was giving up its armed struggle.

But it has yet to formally disarm, and the Spanish government has refused to hold talks with its leaders.

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TERRORISM

Three suspected jihadists held in Barcelona

A court in Spain on Monday remanded in custody three suspected members of Islamic State arrested last week in Barcelona, including an Algerian man who had fought for the Islamist group in Iraq.

Three suspected jihadists held in Barcelona
Archive photo of a suspected jihadist arrested near Barcelona. Photo: AFP

Spanish authorities began their investigation after becoming aware just before Christmas that the “potentially dangerous” Algerian man was in Spain, police said in a statement.   

The man, a “jihadist” who had fought for the Islamic State group in Iraq, was arrested at a building occupied by squatters in Barcelona's seaside neighbourhood of Barceloneta, the statement added.

Police detained two other Algerian men as part of the operation, one suspected of giving him “logistical support” in Spain and another described by police as has “acolyte”.

The operation was carried out in cooperation with European Union law enforcement agency Europol and the FBI, as well as the intelligence services of Spain and Algeria, the statement said.

The three men appeared before a court on Monday where the presiding judge ordered they be remanded in custody on suspicion of membership in a terrorist organisation.

Their arrest comes as the trial of three men accused of helping the jihadists behind the August 2017 attacks in Barcelona and a nearby town that killed 16 people is wrapping up at a court near Madrid.

The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the attacks, one of which involved a van ramming people in the centre of Barcelona.   

While none of the three men on trial are charged with direct responsibility, they are in the dock for helping the attackers, who were all shot dead by police.

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