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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

US vice president lays wreaths at site of 2015 Paris terror attacks

US Vice President Kamala Harris and French Prime Minister Jean Castex laid wreaths at a Paris cafe and France's national football stadium Saturday six years since deadly terror attacks that left 130 people dead.

US vice president lays wreaths at site of 2015 Paris terror attacks
US Vice President Kamala Harris and her husband Doug Emhoff lay flowers after ceremonies at Le Carillon bar and Le Petit Cambodge restaurant, at which 130 people were killed during the 2015 Paris terror attacks. Photo: Sarahbeth Maney/POOL/AFP

The attacks by three separate teams of Islamic State group jihadists on the night of November 13, 2015 were the worst in France since World War II.

Gunmen mowed down 129 people in front of cafes and at a concert hall in the capital, while a bus driver was killed after suicide bombers blew themselves up at the gates of the stadium in its suburbs.

Harris, wrapping up a four-day trip to France, placed a bouquet of white flowers in front of a plaque honouring the victims outside a Paris cafe.

Castex attended a minute of silence at the Stade de France football stadium, along with Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo, before laying wreaths at the sites of the other attacks inside Paris.

In front of the Bataclan concert hall, survivors and relatives of the victims listened to someone read out the names of each of the 90 people killed during a concert there six years ago.

Public commemorations of the tragedy were called off last year because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Last year we weren’t allowed to come and we all found it really tough,” said Bruno Poncet, who made it out alive of the Bataclan.

But he said the start of a trial over the attacks in September meant that those attending the commemoration this year felt more united.

‘Overcome it all’

“We’ve really bonded thanks to the trial,” he said. “During previous commemorations, we’d spot each other from afar without really daring to speak to each other. We were really shy. But standing up in court has really changed everything.”

The marathon trial, the biggest in France’s modern legal history, is expected to last until May 2022.

Twenty defendants are facing sentences of up to life in prison, including the sole attacker who was not gunned down by police, Salah Abdeslam, a French-Moroccan national who was captured in Brussels. Six of the defendants are being tried in absentia.

Poncet said he felt it was crucial that he attend the hearings. “I can’t possibly not. It’s our lives that are being discussed in that room, and it’s important to come to support the others and to try to overcome it all.”

Survivors have taken to the witness stand to recount the horror of the attacks, but also to describe life afterwards.

Several said they had been struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder, grappling with survivor’s guilt, or even feeling alienated from the rest of society.

Saturday’s commemorations are to wrap up with a minute of silence at the Stade de France in the evening before the kick-off for a game between France and Kazakhstan.

It was during a football match between France and Germany that three suicide bombers blew themselves up in 2015.

Then-French president Francois Hollande was one of the 80,000 people in the crowd, before he was discreetly whisked away to avoid triggering mass panic.

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