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Spain Arrests Suspected ETA Finance Chiefs - 2002-04-30


Authorities in Spain have arrested 11 people they say directed the financial infrastructure of the Basque separatist group ETA.

Police arrested the suspected members of ETA in a series of raids Monday and early Tuesday in the Basque Country and Navarre in northern Spain.

More than 200 agents took part in the operation, which police say followed more than three years of investigations.

All those arrested are members of ETA's political wing, Batasuna, including the party's treasurer and several town councilors. In France, police said they seized a van filled with documents from Batasuna's headquarters in the Spanish province of Guipuzcoa.

Spanish Interior Minister Mariano Rajoy said the suspects are accused of running a financial operation that raised about $10 million a year for ETA through a complex of businesses. He said the businesses were used to launder money collected through the so-called revolutionary tax extorted from businessmen in the Basque Country and Navarre.

Authorities said an important part of the business operation is a network of bars and restaurants used as social centers by radical separatists to recruit and train activists.

Interior Minister Rajoy said the operation underlined the urgency of a government-sponsored bill in parliament aimed at banning Batasuna, which he said is part of ETA's terrorist infrastructure. He called on Spain's main opposition Socialist party to support the measure.

Spain, which holds the rotating presidency of the European Union, has made the fight against terrorism a major priority.

ETA is blamed for more than 800 killings in a more than 40-year campaign to established an independent Basque state in northern Spain and southern France.