Israel Arrests Beitar Jerusalem Fans Suspected of Torching Soccer Club's Office

Two weeks after arson attack burns down Jerusalem offices of Israeli soccer team, police arrest two suspects thought to be members of racist 'La Familia' fan group; more arrests expected.

Israeli police arrested on Tuesday two fans of the Beitar Jerusalem soccer team suspected of setting fire to the team's main offices.

The fire, which destroyed historic trophies and mementos, marked the height of a violent campaign by fans upset with the team for signing two Muslim players from Chechnya, Gabriel Kadiev and Zaur Sadaev.

Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said Tuesday that the suspects were members of "La Familia", a the hardcore group of fans that is routinely abusive toward opposing players, taunting them with racist and anti-Arab chants. Their behavior has had the team docked points and forced it to play before empty stadiums.

The February 8 arson attack followed a decision by team management to break from tradition and sign Muslim players.

Jerusalem police raided the houses of the two suspects early Tuesday morning and took them to the Jerusalem Magistrates Court to extend their remand.

One of the suspects, Eli Maloul, admitted to the allegations against him, reenacted the event and tied the second suspect to involvement in the attack.

An investigation into the incident has found that the arson was premeditated and planned for a few days in advance. In addition, it was nationalistically motivated and the suspects were known to the police.

Jerusalem District Commander Maj. Gen. Yossi Prienti said the arson of the Beitar offices two weeks ago was the culmination of a years-long phenomenon of violence on the soccer field. In a briefing for journalists on Tuesday afternoon, Prienti said that additional arrests could be expected.

Also on Tuesday, Beitar midfielder Ofir Kriaf, who was suspended last Wednesday for expressing support for the La Familia group on his Facebook page, published an apology on the soccer club's official website.

"As a player for Beitar Jerusalem it is important to me to clarify that I am a part of the system and support my fellow players, the management and professional staff", wrote Kriaf, "The status that was published on my Facebook page was not directed at the La Familia group, but was directed toward the Beitar Jerusalem fans in general, whom we, the players, have been missing in the past few games.

"I apologize to my team coach, Eli Cohen, my friends the players, and to the management team that was harmed by the incident. Like the rest of my friends, I too lovingly and respectfully receive Kadiev and Sadaev, and I condemn the La Familia group's behavior, their racist exclamations and curses."

Beitar is one of Israel's flagship football franchises.
 

AP