50 Members of Diehard Soccer Fan Club Arrested in Nationwide Police Sweep

Aided by fan-turned-state's witness, forces locate members of violent La Familia group, discover grenades and explosives. Several detainees suspected of attacking fan of rival club with an ax.

Illustrative: A Beitar Jerusalem fan at a soccer stadium.
AP

A joint operation of police forces around the country on Tuesday morning netted 50 members of a controversial group of Beitar Jerusalem fans, referred to as La Familia. Among those in custody are two minors and nine Israel Defense Forces soldiers, including a junior officer.

Several of the detainees are suspected of attacking a fan of Hapoel Tel Aviv, a rival soccer team, with an ax in 2015, seriously wounding him. Some are thought to have participated in other violent incidents, to have used combat materiels and to have brought prohibited pyrotechnical devices onto the soccer stadiums.

The arrests took place after the central investigative unit of the Coastal District of the Israel Police, known as the Yamar, convinced one member of La Familia to turn state's witness and act as an undercover agent.

The operation reached its peak overnight on Monday when some 400 policemen, Border Police and special patrol forces arrested organization members in their homes throughout the country. The activity of the Yamar was accompanied by the Tel Aviv District Prosecutor’s Office, and following the sweep by law-enforcement officers, the existence of the undercover investigation was brought out into the open.

Police officers found, among other things, a kilogram of explosives and dozens of grenades of various kinds, plus 29 flares of different sizes.

The detainees were due to be brought before judges later on Tuesday, whereupon the police are expected to request an extension of their detention. The police said that additional arrests are expected.

The work of the undercover agent also brought about the arrest of nine drug dealers from the northern district.

Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev congratulated the police on the operation, but stressed that, “It’s important to say that the fans are the solution and not the problem, and that’s why I didn’t agree to besmirch an entire team or an entire organization of fans. We will continue to locate the lawbreakers by using intelligence, and to punish only them. We will put an end to the violence and restore the sportsmanlike atmosphere, the fun and the sense of family to the playing fields.”