Four Basque separatists held in France: officials

Police in France have arrested four suspected members of an outlawed youth group linked to the armed Basque separatist group ETA, French and Spanish officials said Thursday.

Two of the members of the Segi organisation were arrested in Ciboure, one in Saint Jean de Luz and one in Hendaye, all towns in southwest France near the Spanish border, French investigators and the Spanish interior ministry said.

They were arrested in a joint French-Spanish police operation as they were preparing to make contact with ETA members in order to join the armed group, the Spanish interior ministry added in a statement.

Spanish authorities said the four had escaped police raids in the northern Basque Country on November 23 in which 34 Segi members were arrested.

French investigators said the four were detained on European arrest warrants issued by Spain, and were among 14 Segi members being actively sought by Spanish authorities.

Authorities in Spain blame Segi for street violence in the Basque region such as the torching of cash machines and buses. The youth group is considered to be ETA’s main source of recruitment.

ETA, which is on the terrorist blacklists of the European Union and the United States, is blamed for the deaths of 829 people in a four-decade campaign of bombings and shootings to demand a Basque homeland in northern Spain and southwestern France.

Cooperation between Madrid and Paris has led to the arrests in the past two years of five top ETA leaders in France, which the group has long used as a rear base to stage attacks in Spain.

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