Madrid: Spanish police arrested 14 suspected members of an outlawed organisation of youths linked with armed Basque separatists ETA in pre-dawn raids on Friday, the government said.
Three hundred national police officers joined the operation to dismantle the leadership of the clandestine SEGI organisation, used as a "recruiting ground" by ETA, the Interior Ministry said in a statement.
Interior Minister Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba said the authorities would not allow the youth group to rebuild its leadership. It had already been dismantled in November 2009 with the arrest of 36 suspected SEGI members.
"We are not going to allow ETA to rebuild its youth team. Every time ETA rebuilds its youth team the police will take action and that youth team will never make it to the main team. That must be clear," he told a news conference.
Forces also raided homes and other premises, seizing documents and computer records as well as explosive-making materials and EUR 36,000 (USD 50,000) in cash after the arrests in the northern regions of the Basque Country, Navarre and Catalonia, the ministry said.
Police with their faces covered with black balaclavas led the 14 suspects, all aged between 20 and 29, into awaiting cars, images broadcast on TV showed.
The suspects were being transferred to Madrid. 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 Spain such as the post office, banks and political party offices.
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 Interior Ministry said ETA continues to turn to SEGI "to regenerate its militant network".
"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.
In 2007 Spain`s Supreme Court declared SEGI to be a terrorist group over its suspected ties to ETA.
Italy meanwhile handed over to Spain three suspected members of the group who were detained in Rome on June 10 just as they were about to give a press conference in front of the Italian parliament.
Their arrests coincided with a visit by Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero.
In a video message sent to the BBC on September 05, 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.