Jerusalem supporters from the La Familia fan group hold up a match against Charleroi in Belgium.
(photo credit: UDI ZITIAT)
More than 400 police officers swept through north and south Israel on Monday night, arresting 47 members of the Beitar Jerusalem soccer team’s fan club La Familia on suspicion of illegal weapons trafficking and intention to bring pyrotechnics to matches.
Overall, 56 persons were arrested, some on the suspicion of drug trafficking, with more arrests expected.
The arrests were made possible by a six-month undercover operation, conducted under the auspices of the Coastal District Police, in which an undercover agent infiltrated La Familia.
La Familia has gained notoriety for racist chants and reoccurring violence. In October 2015, three suspects allegedly linked to La Familia were arrested in connection to a violent attack on a Hapoel Tel Aviv fan, who was hit in the head with a hammer and seriously wounded.
Along with the arrests, police seized 12 flash grenades, 1 kilogram of explosives, two gas grenades, 19 improvised grenades and other materials.
The Coastal Division police spokesman told The Jerusalem Post that the arrests made significant headway into combating violence in sports. He said, however, that the arrests do not characterize the majority of the La Familia fan club.
“These arrests come from a violent subgroup of La Famila called Hakometz [“The Handful”], they are a minority and do not represent La Familia,” he said.
According to police, this investigation reflects the force’s ability to successfully conduct nation-wide investigations.
“Police activities tonight bring to the fore the extraction capabilities of the Israeli Police and the large-scale ability to collect evidence and investigate suspects throughout the country,” the police said.
MK Yoel Razbozov, chairman of the Knesset Sports Lobby, congratulated the police in its efforts to “isolate the extreme fans” and said that these arrests are for the good of the Beitar team and fans. “The arrest of this radical group will strengthen the Beitar Jerusalem fans who suffered for years from their behavior,” he stated.
Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan praised the police on his Twitter page for conducting a “complex operation” that sought to combat violence in sports.
Liran Ohayon, a lawyer representing one of the suspects, told Channel 2 News that his client has been wrongly accused. “My client is not connected to the events of violence and weapons that the police attributed to him. I am sure that at the end of the day the court will be convinced that my client’s version is correct,” he said.
In July 2015, members of La Familia threw dozens of incendiary devices onto the pitch during a Europa League match. The Union of European Football Associations fined Beitar €95,000 as a result and ordered a 500-seat closure of Beitar’s Teddy Stadium during the subsequent UEFA competition match.
Violence at soccer matches has become an issue of national concern. Last week, Erdan and Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev agreed to fund a new police unit that will combat crime at sporting events, beginning with the 2016/17 soccer season that begins next month. The unit will gather intelligence centering on the causes of violence and incitement at sporting events and bring indictments against suspected offenders.
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