Spanish police arrest 13 suspected ETA allies

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Spanish police launched a series of night raids Friday and arrested 13 suspected leading members of a radical Basque group allied with armed separatists ETA, the government said.

Three hundred national police officers joined the operation to dismantle the leadership of the clandestine SEGI organization, the interior ministry said in a statement.

Forces were still raiding homes and other premises, seizing documents and computer storage devices after the arrests in the northern provinces of the Basque Country and Navarre, the ministry said.

The 13 suspects, all aged between 20 and 29, were to be transferred to Madrid within the next few hours. Some of them may be linked to acts of "street terrorism", the ministry said.

Spanish police blame SEGI and other radical Basque youth groups of acts of urban anti-state violence such as throwing Molotov cocktails at symbols of the Spanish state.

They are considered by the authorities to be support groups for ETA, which is blamed for the deaths of 829 people in more than 40 years of bombing and shooting for a homeland independent of Spain.

The SEGI organization of young radicals was "a recruiting ground which ETA continues to turn to so as to regenerate its militant network," the ministry charged.

"According to the information obtained during the investigation, SEGI identifies completely with the most radical tenets of the criminal network, considering terrorist violence as necessary and indispensable," it said.

This is the second major police operation against the group, declared a terrorist group by the Supreme Court in 2007 over its suspected ties to ETA, over the past year.

In November police detained 36 members of SEGI, including several of its suspected leaders.

In a video message sent to the BBC on September 5, ETA said it had decided several months ago to halt "armed offensive actions" but did not say if this truce was temporary or permanent.

Two weeks later the group called on international mediators to help resolve the decades-old conflict and said it was ready to disarm in the right conditions.

But the announcements have been met with scepticism because it has broken such ceasefires in the past. The government demands a unilateral, verifiable and definitive abandonment of the armed struggle.

© 2010 AFP

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