Dozens of nationalist soccer fans held in police crackdown

Weapons seized, 47 suspects taken into custody in massive sweep against Beitar Jerusalem’s La Familia group

Israeli police overnight arrested 47 people linked to Beitar Jerusalem’s “La Familia” ultra-nationalist soccer club in a mass crackdown on violence in Israeli sports late Monday and early Tuesday.

In an operation that saw an undercover agent infiltrate the group for over six months, the members of La Familia were detained on suspicion of selling weapons, various acts of violence and smuggling firecrackers onto soccer fields, police said on Tuesday.

Over 400 policemen were involved in the overnight raids to arrest the soccer fans, according to Channel 2.

The TV report said nine people who were not affiliated to the “La Familia” organization were arrested for other drug-related offenses in the sweeps.

According to Army Radio, all 56 detainees were suspected of links to a radical sub-group named as “Hakometz.”

Israeli police seized 20 stun grenades, a kilogram of explosive material, two gas grenades, two smoke grenades, and 19 improvised grenades, and 29 flares in the raids.

“We were surprised by the number of weapons seized,” Police Commander Benny Ablaya told Army Radio.

Beitar and Bnai Sakhnin fans facing off in the city's Doha Stadium, during a November 2014 game (Flash 90)
Beitar and Bnai Sakhnin fans facing off in the city’s Doha Stadium, during a November 2014 game (Flash 90)

Ablaya said the group suspected of violence represented a minority of Beitar Jerusalem fans. Brawls, riots, anti-Arab chants, and general hooliganism have become a staple of the Beitar Jerusalem soccer matches in recent years.

“It isn’t all the Beitar fans and La Familia, which includes hundreds of people. It’s the people who cause those problems of violence, who cause regular people to avoid the fields because of the violence,” said Ablaya.

Police said additional arrests were expected.

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan on Tuesday hailed the conclusion of the “complicated operation” by the Israel Police, which he said represented the “height of efforts to combat violence in sports.”

On Twitter, the minister also underlined that a new police unit would be dedicated to gathering intelligence and enforcing the law on sports-linked violence.

The La Familia soccer fan club has a reputation for anti-Arab racism and violence.

In May 2013, the Jerusalem District Court convicted two soccer fans for torching the Beitar Jerusalem team’s offices in protest of the club signing two Chechen Muslim players.

The decision came after Evyatar Yosef, 21, and Matan Navon, 23, pleaded guilty under a plea bargain for the arson attack. Under the deal, the two admitted to all charges but did not identify themselves as members of La Familia.

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