Former leader of Basque terrorist group sentenced to prison

A picture of Francisco Javier Garcia Gazteluis at a Madrid court with companion Irantzu Gallestegi Sodupe 'Amaia' in June 2007.

Story highlights

  • Francisco Javier Garcia Gaztelu has been in custody since 2001
  • He is found guilty of ordering the assassination of a Basque Socialist politician
  • He is sentenced to 105 years, but can serve only 40 under Spanish law
A former chief of the Basque terrorist group ETA has been sentenced to 105 years in prison for ordering the assassination of a politician, according to a copy of the court ruling, made public Monday.
It is the first sentence in a case involving ETA from the National Court, which handles terrorism cases, since ETA announced last month "a definitive cessation of its armed activity," raising hopes that decades of separatist violence may finally be over.
The maximum that can be served in Spanish prison is 40 years, although courts often hand down a longer sentence for terrorist attacks. Spain has no death penalty.
In the sentence issued last Friday but made public on Monday, the court ruled that Francisco Javier Garcia Gaztelu, whom Spanish authorities called the military chief of ETA when he was captured in 2001, ordered the assassination of a Basque Socialist politician, Fernando Buesa.
Buesa and his bodyguard were killed in the Basque city of Vitoria in northern Spain in February 2000 when they walked past a vehicle that contained a hidden bomb that was exploded by remote control.
Garcia Gaztelu, now 45, was sentenced to 30 years each for the killings of Buesa and his bodyguard, 13 years each for two people injured in the attack, and additional time mainly for damage caused by the bomb, the court said.
The government, courts and police have said they will not halt the court cases pending against ETA operatives despite the outlawed group's announcement last month.
Listed as a terrorist organization by Spain, the United States and the European Union, ETA is blamed for more than 800 deaths in its decades-long fight for an independent Basque state that it wants carved out of sections of northern Spain and southwestern France.
ETA's announcement last month followed a recent push for the group to abandon violence permanently. That effort was led by international figures who include Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams of Northern Ireland and former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan.
Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero termed ETA's announcement as being of "transcendental importance" and a "victory for democracy."
"Ours will be a democracy without terrorism, but not without memory," Zapatero said, referring to 829 people killed by ETA and their families.
The prime minister said that it would be up to Spain's next government -- which will be formed after parliamentary elections on November 20 -- to lead the peace process.