Europe

Spain hunts Eta killer freed from jail 'by mistake'

Spanish Guardia Civil officers
Image caption The Guardia Civil were among Antonio Troitino's main targets

Spain has launched an urgent manhunt for a notorious Eta killer after a Spanish court which released him last week made a dramatic U-turn.

Antonio Troitino was convicted of 22 murders in the 1980s as a member of the Basque separatists' Madrid cell.

He was sentenced to more than 2,700 years in prison, but was released last Wednesday, amid a storm of controversy, after 24 years in jail.

Very unusually, the Audencia Nacional court has now revoked its decision.

Magistrates at the court, one of Spain's highest, issued an arrest warrant for the Eta militant.

But Troitino, 53, was not placed under surveillance after his release, and there was concern he might have fled the country. There are now unconfirmed reports he has been located in France.

According to Spanish law at the time of his original arrest, a prisoner can serve a maximum of 30 years in jail, regardless of the total sentence handed down by a court.

Last week the Audencia Nacional ruled that the six years Troitino spent on remand could be deducted from that maximum time, and authorised his early release.

Outrage

The decision outraged groups representing the victims of Eta, whose militants have killed more than 800 people in their four-decade long fight for an independent Basque state.

"This is not a game," insisted Angeles Pedraza, president of the Association of the Victims of Terrorism, who complained that convicted terrorists were being treated more favourably than paedophiles or rapists.

"We're talking about killers and there should only be one path for them: they should be judged, sentenced and then made to spend every year of their sentence in prison," Mr Pedraza said on Tuesday.

The next day the magistrates reassessed - and reversed - their decision after an appeal against the prisoner's early release by the public prosecutor's office.

Now, following a precedent set by Spain's Supreme Court, the magistrates have ruled that time spent on remand should be deducted from a prisoner's total, actual sentence - not the maximum permitted time behind bars.

Antonio Troitino should not have been released until 2017.

Spain's main opposition Popular Party has said it will demand someone is held accountable for "the error", if the prisoner is not found quickly and returned to custody.

Antonio Troitino is notorious for his involvement in the 1986 killing of 12 Guardia Civil officers. He was charged with detonating a remote control bomb as the police bus passed through central Madrid. A truck had been packed with up to 50kg of explosives.

Among other murders committed by the "Madrid Commandos," he was also sentenced for his role in planting a car bomb earlier that year in the capital, killing five policemen.