Spain: Two ETA terrorists that had been sentenced to life imprisonment are set free, supporters throw celebrations in their hometowns

Despite both having been sentenced to more than 200 years in prison for crimes including kidnapping, murder and possession of explosives, ETA terrorists Xabier Ugarte Villar and José Javier Zabaleta Elosegi –the group’s second in command– were released from life imprisonment after serving 22 and 29 years.

Ugarte walked free out of Topas prison in the province of Salamanca on July 28 having kidnapped and nearly starved to death prison officer José Antonio Ortega Lara for 532 days from 1996 to 1997, ETA’s longest kidnap.

Ugarte was convicted to a total of 227 years in prison: 32 for “terrorist kidnapping and conspiring assassination”, both crimes with aggravated cruelty; 14 for the kidnapping of Julio Iglesias Zamora, which lasted nearly four months; 36 for building a dungeon where he hid his two hostages in separate years; and 145 years for participating in the attack of a Civil Guard patrol –Spain’s national police force– carried out in 1987 in Oñati, in which two agents died.

The terrorists built a dungeon in Arrasate –which measured 3m (10 ft) long, 2.5m (8,2 ft) wide and 1.80m (5,9 ft) tall– where they hid Iglesias Zamora in 1993 and Ortega Lara a few years later for nearly a year and a half in inhumane conditions, including feeding him only a little fruit and vegetables in the same pot he was forced to use to urinate and defecate.

Ortega Lara lost 23kg (50lbs) and attempted suicide on at least two occasions. After his rescue, Ortega Lara is said to have suffered from anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.

José Javier Zabaleta Elosegi ´Baldo´–considered by many as ETA’s number two– was set free on July 27 from Zuera prison in Zaragoza after serving 29 years of sentence despite having killed four civil guards and one civilian. He was first captured in France where he was imprisoned for eight years before being extradited to Spain.

Upon his return, Zabaleta was sentenced to 12 years for possession of explosives, 24 years for facilitating arms and explosives to other ETA members, 57 years for shooting at three Civil Guards and 200 years for killing four Civil Guards and one civilian at a bar.

When Ugarte and Zabaleta were released, tributes organised by Izquierda Abertzale -a group of Basque left wing separatist parties led by Arnaldo Otegi– were made in the hometowns of Xabier Ugarte and Zabaleta Elosegi, in Oñate and in Hernani .


ETA supporters celebrating the release of Xabier Ugarte. Courtesy of El Correo.


ETA supporters welcome Zabaleta Elosegi upon his release.


The Basque government has called for an outlaw of such celebrations and called them an “exaltation of terrorism”. Spanish politicians appealed for Spain’s current interim president Pedro Sánchez “to reflect because those who do these tributes are Sanchez’s partners” but his left coalition Unidas Podemos downplayed them.

The Government is now considering reforming the 2011 Law of Recognition and Comprehensive Protection for Victims of Terrorism that may result in fining city councils that do not impede public celebrations of released ETA terrorists .

The Asociación Víctimas del Terrorismo (Association of Victims of Terrorism), a Spanish association created in 1981 by victims of terrorist attacks, has denounced the homages in Spain’s National Court.

Who is ETA?

ETA, short for the basque words ‘Euskadi Ta Askatasuna’ (Basque Country and Freedom), emerged in the 1960s as an armed organisation that waged a bloody campaign for over four decades claiming seven regions in northern Spain and south-west France that Basque separatists claim as their own country.

ETA is responsible for 854 deaths (853 according to data from the Ministry of Interior and policeman Jean-Serge Nèrin, murdered in France on 10 March 2010), thousands wounded and many kidnapped and extorted from from 1968-2010.

Most of its crimes were committed after Franco’s death in 1975.

Among the victims of ETA was the grandfather of singer Enrique Iglesias, Julio Iglesias Puga, kidnapped in December 1981 and released within two weeks.

ETA victim is one of the founders of right wing party VOX

Years after he was rescued from his kidnappers, José Antonio Ortega Lara helped found Spanish right wing political party VOX in December 2013.

VOX opponents have ironized his kidnapping. A sign showed up in Burgos on Aug. 5 with his picture on it and the words “Vox back 2 box” –“box” referring to the dungeon in which he was held hostage for nearly a year and a half in which he could only take three steps due to its size.

And hundreds of people protesting a VOX meeting in Murcia last November shouted at him “Ortega Lara, de vuelta al zulo” (Ortega Lara, go back to the dungeon). He is said to have reacted with “faith and serenity” and made no reference on the attacks during his speech at the gathering.


Santiago Abascal (Left) and ETA survivor José Antonio Ortega Lara (Right), are two of the founders of VOX.


Spain and France have been releasing ETA terrorists since its alleged “disarmament”

Spain and France have been releasing ETA’s top leaders since the group announced in 2011 it is no longer an “armed” organization.

Santiago Arrospide Sarasola, nicknamed ‘Santi Potros’, was released from Topas prison on Aug. 5, 2018 after 31 years in prison. He had been sentenced to 790 years for ordering an attack of the Hipercor supermarket in June 1987 which resulted in 21 deaths and 45 wounded. He had also been sentenced to over 1,000 years in prison for his involvement in the attack the Plaza República Dominicana bombing in Madrid in 1986, in which 12 Civil Guards died and 32 people were injured.

A year before that, on Aug. 8, 2017, France released Mikel Irastorza on probation awaiting trial. Irastorza, who was jailed in 2016, was previously the national head of EKIN, a political group that identified and collaborated with ETA.

The group Covite -Colectivo de Víctimas del Terrorismo (Collective of Victims of Terrorism) spoke out against his release saying France may be “yielding to the blackmail of ETA” since the judge has stated there is a “new political context” since the “disarmament” of ETA as an argument to decree his release.

ETA claimed a “permanent ceasefire” which lasted only from March 24 – Dec. 30, 2006, the day it bombed Madrid’s Barajas Airport, killing two and injuring 52. It then continued with bombs and attacks until 2011.