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Judge summons Basque ETA ex-bosses over 1997 murder

A judge has named three former ETA leaders as suspects over their alleged role in the group’s 1997 kidnapping and murder of a politician that traumatised Spain, court documents showed Friday.

All three, who were part of the leadership of the now-defunct armed separatist group, have been formally named on charges of “terrorist kidnapping and murder”, the documents show.

The decision was announced almost exactly 25 years after ETA militants snatched Miguel Angel Blanco, a local councillor with the right-wing Popular Party (PP), on July 10, 1997.

They gave the government 48 hours to meet their demands but when the deadline expired, they shot the 29-year-old twice in the head and dumped him. He died a day later.

His murder shocked Spain to the core, sparking mass nationwide protests that ended up being a turning point in the fight against ETA.

Court documents seen by AFP identified the three as Javier Arizcuren Ruiz, alias “Kantauri”, Maria Soledad Iparraguire, or “Anboto”, and Miguel Albisu Iriarte, also known as “Mikel Antza”.

The move came a week after Manuel García Castellon, a judge with Spain’s top criminal court, received a police report identifying the members ETA’s executive committee and outlining their possible involvement in the 1997 kidnapping and murder.

Following the breakup of ETA’s leadership in southwestern France in 1992, the group drew up a “destabilisation strategy” which included identifying as targets politicians from Spain’s two main political parties, the PP and the ruling Socialists.

All three suspects were part of the executive committee, which “planned and carried out” that strategy and in 1997 decided to kidnap a member of the PP, which had just recovered office from the Socialists.

“In 1997, the kidnapping of a Popular Party councillor was an absolute priority for ETA’s ‘directorate’, an action that had to be carried out that summer,” the judge wrote.

As leaders, the three suspects held “enough control and decision-making power over the group’s terrorist activity that they could have either decided not to kidnap the victim or prevented the kidnapping’s ultimate outcome.. by giving the order to release him,” it said.

“The terrorist action by the Donosti commando cell could not have taken place on its own, it was carried out following the orders, and with the express authorisation of.. the executive committee.”

All three suspects are now in their early 60s and have spent long years behind bars for the bloodshed committed while part of ETA.

ETA is estimated to have killed 853 people during its decades-long campaign for Basque independence, which began in 1959 under the Franco dictatorship.

The group announced a permanent ceasefire in 2011 and formally disbanded in 2018.