Spanish police arrest nine over links to ETA
Spanish police have arrested nine people suspected of links to ETA in the first swoop against the Basque separatist group since it declared a ceasefire this month, the government said Tuesday.
"This demonstrates that the government's position has not changed in the fight against ETA," Justice Minister Francisco Caamano told reporters.
"Security forces and public prosecutors maintain their determination in the fight against terrorism with rigour and judges continue to apply the law."
Police detained the nine leaders of Ekin, an ETA support group that was declared illegal by Spain's National Court in 2007, in simultaneous overnight raids in the northern Basque Country and the regions of Navarra, Cantabria and Aragon, the interior ministry said in a statement.
It said more than 300 police officers took part in the operation which involved searches of 28 homes, bars and offices used by the nine suspects, three of whom were women.
Images broadcast on Spanish television showed police wearing black balaclavas that covered their faces hauling boxes of documents and other material from the sites that were searched, while armed guards stood by.
ETA declared a unilateral ceasefire in a video message on September 5, which was swiftly rejected by the Spanish government because it failed to promise a permanent end to violence.
Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero has demanded that ETA give up weapons forever.
And the interior ministry has vowed to keep its hardline policy against the group.
Ekin, formed in 1999, is considered by Spanish authorities as the "heart and entrails of ETA."
It acts as an organiser for the outfit, stirring up street protests and spreading the militants' message and orders, and helps ETA members on the run from police to evade capture, according to the interior ministry.
ETA's decades-long campaign of bombing and shooting for a homeland independent of Spain has claimed more than 800 lives.
Listed as a terrorist group by the European Union and the United States, ETA announced a "permanent ceasefire" in March 2006.
But in December 2006 it set off a bomb at a car park at Madrid's airport, killing two men. In June 2007 it formally called off its ceasefire citing a lack of concessions by the government in peace talks.
Since then, the government has taken a hard line against the group and its banned political wing, Batasuna, arresting dozens of members including the top leadership.
Interior Minister Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba said the arrests of the suspected Ekin leaders had reduced ETA's capacity to act.
"This operation has succeeded in diminishing ETA's ability to exercise its command over its political framework and reduces part of its capacity for social mobilization," he said.
Among those detained was Ekin's new leader, Eneko Compains Silva, and Ugaitz Elizaran Aguilar, the brother of ETA's former political chief Aitor Elizaran who was detained in France in October 2009, public radio RNE reported.
Batasuna demanded the "immediate and unconditional" release of the nine and accused the government of "smashing the opportunity for peace" which ETA's ceasefire represents with the arrests.
The detentions come one day after a Spanish court sentence a former military chief of ETA, Gorka Palacios Aldai, to 83 years in prison for killing a police officer in a 2001 attack in Madrid.
© 2010 AFP