The leadership of Basque terror group ETA has been taken over by two women who have close ties with Irish republicans.
The new bosses are stunning dark-haired Iratxe Sorzabal (37) and Izaskun Lesaca (34), who have seized control of the separatist group fighting for an independent homeland in Spain and France.
Sorzabal, who is suspected of being one of the the masterminds behind bombing and paramilitary operations with ETA for at least 20 years, has in the past been praised by Sinn Fein’s An Phoblacht newspaper.
Last night security sources said in the past she had maintained close contacts, through ETA, with top Provos.
Sorzabal has had a warrant out for her arrest by the Spanish police — the Guardia Civil — since 2005 and is wanted in connection with terrorist acts.
Her colleague Lesaca is also wanted in connection with terrorist offences in Spain and has served three years imprisonment in France.
Both women feature on more than 46,000 wanted posters distributed by the security services in Spain and another 30,000 posted on notice boards throughout France.
They are known to be backed by three other women who are also Basque terror leaders.
They have been named as Itziar Fernandez (26), Oihana De Cerain (32) and Oihana Marin, who is also 32.
ETA, the Basque equivalent of the IRA, suffered a heavy blow when 120 of its militants were arrested in police swoops on addresses in Spain and France last year.
The Basque country, with a population of roughly three million stretches from northern Spain across the Pyrenees and into France.
Sorzabal and Lesaca have vowed to carry on their fight against Spain and France until they establish an independent homeland.
However, Sorzabal is also known to want revenge against Spanish police after she was arrested in 2001 by plain clothes agents and later allegedly tortured to reveal details of ETA terrorist activities.
Sinn Fein’s An Phoblacht claimed she had been tortured with electric shocks, beaten, stripped and searched, sexually abused and threatened with gang rape.
Later, Sorzabal told a Spanish judge that attempts had also been made to strangle her using plastic bags.
Inexplicably, the Spanish security services freed her six months after her arrest following pressure from human rights groups.
Since then Sorzabal has vowed revenge on the Spanish security
services for the humiliation she suffered and also because she had broken under police interrogation and revealed details of ETA operations and the names of terrorists.
At the time, a humiliated Sorzabal said: “They told me that I didn't have any rights and that I had to choose one of three options.
“I was physically and psychologically destroyed and I told them that I would make the statement that they wanted.”
Since then Sorzabal has been active in bomb campaigns and attacks on civilian, police and military targets.
ETA’s 40-year struggle for an independent Basque country has so far cost more than 800 lives.
Last night a security source working closely with Interpol, the international police organisation, said: “ETA has always been run by men.
“But these women are even more determined and dangerous.
“They are attractive and can move more freely than men terrorists and are far less suspicious looking.”