The United States is imposing anti-terrorist financial sanctions against three Spanish groups said to be front organizations for the Basque separatist guerrilla group ETA. The action was announced Wednesday only hours before a White House meeting between President Bush and Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar.
The ETA, or Basque Fatherland and Liberty, is held responsible for more than 800 deaths in Spain since the 1960s and has long been on the State Department's list of foreign terrorist organizations. Now the Bush administration is imposing anti-terrorist financial sanctions against three Basque groups said to be affiliated with the radical separatist organization.
In an announcement published Wednesday in the U.S. government's official journal, the Federal Register, Secretary of State Colin Powell said the penalties will apply to the radical Basque nationalist party, Batasuna and two predecessor groups, Herri Batasuna and Euskal Herritarrok.
State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said all three factions have supported ETA acts of terrorism and by all indications are little more than adjuncts of the terror group. "This designation is based on substantial and credible information from a variety of sources that these entities were formed at ETA's direction, and functioned as part of ETA," he said. "The Batasuna leadership and membership have included a number of people convicted of ETA-related terrorist acts."
The sanctions were imposed under an executive order issued by President Bush shortly after the 9-11 terrorist attacks in 2001. They freeze any assets or property the groups may have in the United States and bar any person under U.S. jurisdiction from having business dealings with them.
Spokesman Boucher said Spain has been a strong U.S. ally in the war against terror and that the United States stands with that country in its own struggle against terrorists, including ETA which has used violent tactics to try to create a separate Basque state in northern Spain and southwestern France.
Spain had long sought the extension of U.S. sanctions to the three groups, which were barred from electoral politics in that country earlier this year. Secretary of State Powell signed the order April 30, just before leaving on a four-nation trip that included a stop in Madrid.