Northern Irish police confirmed on Sunday they were investigating the desecration of more than a dozen Jewish headstones at a Belfast cemetery as a hate crime, British and Irish media said.

The Guardian said as many as eight youths had smashed the graves using jackhammers in what appeared to be an organized attack. The vandalism was reported to police on Friday.

Some of the vandalized graves, located inside a walled off enclosure of a city graveyard, date to the 1870s.  

An Irish police commander, Norman Hasley, called the vandalism "a particularly sickening incident, which we are treating as a hate crime," British media and The Irish Times said.

“To disturb the sanctity of a cemetery in this way is completely unacceptable and I can assure the public that we will conduct a robust investigation," Hasley said.

According to the Guardian, William Humphrey, a Northern Irish assemblyman of the Democratic Unionist Party, said Belfast city councilors had told him eight youths were involved in the attack, supported by sympathizers also present at the scene.

In June vandals damaged a Belfast mural honoring Lt. Col. John Henry Patterson, a Christian who led a historic Jewish legion in World War I and then advocated for the creation of the State of Israel.