The management offices of the Beitar Jerusalem soccer club were torched early Friday morning at its training ground in Bayit Vegan, causing heavy damage. An investigator from the fire department said the fire bore signs of arson.
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The Jerusalem fire department received a call at 5 A.M. from a security patrolman who noticed the fire, according to Asaf Abras, a department spokesman.
"Two teams rushed to the scene, where they saw smoke coming through the windows," he said. "They broke in and put out the fire. Some items were collected at the scene and sent to the forensic lab. At this point, we’ve determined that this was arson." The heaviest damage was caused to a room housing trophies, a storage room and some offices.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemned the suspected arson attack.
"This behavior was shameful," said Netanyahu. "We cannot accept such racist behavior. The Jewish person that has suffered boycotts and expulsions must serve as 'light unto the nations."
An announcement harshly criticizing the incident also came from the team's fan club. "We are holding our heads low today following the harsh sight of seeing the club burn, going up with it historic championship cups, jerseys and other valuable items," said the fan club's announcement.
"With a sense of revulsion we criticize this detestable act and hope that legal authorities will swiftly bring the guilty to justice. We see this act as a serious crime for all intents and purposes. The fan club does not view those responsible for the crime as part of Beitar Jerusalem's fan family."
"This was a serious offense, a dangerous and violent act," said Limor Livnat, Minister of Culture and Sport. "The enforcement authorities and the courts should deliver a clear and strong message that offenders at sporting events are not above the law." Livnat said she would attend Sunday’s match, in which Beitar will host the team from Sachnin.
The Soccer Association has strongly condemned the torching, saying, “it views with grave concern the burning of Beitar’s offices last night. We are convinced that if it turns out that this was a deliberate act, the police will apprehend the culprits and bring them to justice. The Association sends its best wishes and support to the club management, players and fans. We will help with this struggle, which is one facing the entire public in Israel."
The fire occurred in the wake of several violent incidents stemming from the team's acquisition of two Muslim players from Chechnya, Gabriel Kadiev and Zaur Sadaev last month.
The police, the Jerusalem public prosecutor and the club management announced that they would intensify actions against racist fans. A meeting was held Thursday between Yossi Prienti, commander of the Jerusalem district police, Eli Abarbanel, the assistant to the Jerusalem district prosecutor and club managers. The meeting discussed new ways of dealing with racist outbursts by the club's fans.
The spokesman for the Jerusalem Police said that Prienti set forth instructions for increasing intelligence gathering and investigation in collaboration with prosecutors to put a stop to racism inside and outside the stadium.
Prosecutors on Thursday filed indictments against four Beitar Jerusalem fans for racism, including harassment of the team's two new Muslim players.
All four fans are between 22 and 24 years old. Three of them were indicted for making racist statements during Beitar's game against Bnei Yehuda last month. A fourth fan, 23, was charged with harassing the two Muslim players during their first practice with the team last week.