BILBAO, Spain, April 2 (UPI) -- The former leader of the Basque separatist group ETA has died in Paris after suffering a stroke while imprisoned, a support group announced last weekend.
The Bilbao, Spain, group Etxerat, a support organization for relatives of Basque separatist exiles, announced Saturday that "political prisoner" Javier Xabier Lopez Pena had died at the Pitie-Salpetriere Hospital in Paris after suffering a stroke Thursday.
Lopez Pena, 54, known by the nom de guerre "Thierry," was arrested in 2008 along with fellow ETA members Jon Salaberria, Igor Suberbiola and Ainhoa Ozaeta. He was the head of the group's political operation from late 2004 until his arrest in Bordeaux, France, the Bilbao daily El Correo reported.
"Thierry" was held responsible for a bomb that exploded Dec. 30, 2006, in the parking lot of the T-4 terminal at Barajas Airport in Madrid. The blast claimed the lives of two Ecuadorian tourists and shattered a March 2004 truce between the government and Basque separatists.
Lopez Pena came to prominence as the ETA negotiator in the last two sessions of a series of secret cease-fire talks with the government of Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero in 2006 and 2007.
Until then, Lopez Pena had been considered among the second ranks of the ETA leadership, which began its acts of terror in the in late 1970s, the Spanish daily El Pais reported.
After being detained in 1983 in Bayonne, France, on extortion charges, he went underground, fleeing to the United States before returning to France as a member of the ETA's logistics unit.
Arrested when he was "the person with the most political and military weight in the band," as described by Interior Minister Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba, the extensive documentation that was seized at the time led to the arrests of many other ETA members in subsequent years.
He had been hospitalized since March 11 with cardiovascular problems and was transferred from a French prison to a suburban Paris hospital for care.
After complications, on March 13 he was admitted to the cardiology unit of the Pitie-Salpetriere Hospital, where he underwent surgery the next day, the Bilbao newspaper reported.
His death came after ETA last week threatened "negative consequences" after the expulsion of several of its leaders from Norway.
The Basque support group said his case "highlights the fatal consequences of a prison policy that violates the fundamental rights" of ETA prisoners.
"Etxerat wishes to convey condolences and solidarity with the family of Xabier," the group said in a statement, denouncing the fact that those close to "Thierry" only learned of his death upon arrival at the hospital.
The group denounced what it called "the disgraceful attitude of the prison authorities (who) continue to play with the lives of our loved ones without even bothering to inform family members of news as serious as a hospitalization or death."
Etxerat demanded "the immediate release of all prisoners that are seriously ill and the end of their dispersion, which demonstrates fully this contemptuous attitude toward families."
The group said it had scheduled demonstrations at Benta Square in the Basque city of Basauri and in Lopez Pena's home town of Galdakao.