Anti-terrorist police in France and Spain have arrested 13 people suspected of having links with the armed Basque group ETA.
Those detained are accused of extortion and racketeering. The joint operation has been described by both security forces as the biggest blow against the separatists since the group announced a permanent ceasefire.
Several sites were raided on both sides of the border in a series of pre-dawn raids. The ages of the suspects range from 29 to 74. A French source said police have been investigating racketeers who extort what ETA
calls a “revolution tax” from local businesses in order to finance the separatists.
Among those arrested is Angel Iturbe Abasolo, said to be the financial brains behind ETA
. Also detained was Julen Madariaga, one of the founders of the armed Basque group. But Madariaga has renounced violence and is known to be backing the peace process.
The arrests come as the Spanish government is preparing to start peace talks with ETA
. Interior Minister Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba said the operation would have no significant effect on those talks and that the government would continue to pursue peace “but that of course the police would not just stand back and do nothing.”
Arnaldo Otegi, leader of Batasuna, the banned political wing of ETA
, condemned the raids.
He said the Basque people viewed the arrests “as a clear and frontal attack on all our hopes for peace.”
About 850 people have been killed in the separatists’ violent campaign but the group announced a truce last March.
Despite some opposition in the country, the government set the condition that if ETA
renounced all violence they would consider talks.