Police in Spain detain 18 members of outlawed Basque youth group

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Regional police detained 18 members of an outlawed Basque youth group yesterday at a sports facility in the northern port city of Bilbao, police said in a statement.

The youths were arrested on suspicion of belonging to Segi, one of three Basque organizations that the Supreme Court ruled last month were terrorist organizations. The groups, known as Jarrai, Haika and Segi, had already been outlawed - but not placed on the country's terrorist list - before the court's Jan. 19 ruling.

A 19th suspect, named by police as Gorka Betolaza Villagrasa, was still at large, police said.

The National Court, which handles terrorism cases, ordered the arrest of 23 youths - including those detained in Bilbao - after the Supreme Court's ruling last month. Most of the 23 had been released after serving four years in detention for belonging to the three organizations.

Members of the three groups have been involved in recent years in street violence in the Basque region, burning buses, throwing Molotov cocktails and torching ATMs.

Such violence has become a symbol of underground support for violent Basque separatist group ETA.

ETA has killed more than 800 people since it began fighting in 1968 for a Basque homeland independent from central government rule. The group, whose acronym stands for Basque homeland and freedom, is listed as a terrorist organization by the Spanish government, the European Union and the United States.

On Dec. 30 a car bomb detonated by ETA killed two people, shattered a nine-month cease-fire and all but snuffed out Spain's hopes for an end to four decades of separatist violence.

It was ETA's first fatal attack since May 2003.

When the group announced a cease-fire in March, it said it wanted a negotiated solution. But peace talks with the government never materialized.

ETA and its political wing, Batasuna, have continually accused the government of harassing pro-independence supporters through police raids, aggressive court rulings and the mistreatment of imprisoned members of ETA.