Jerusalem District Police arrested two suspects in connection with the fire at Beitar Jerusalem's clubhouse in Jerusalem's Bayit VeGan neighborhood Tuesday. The fire,
which destroyed some of the soccer team's historic trophies and mementos, marked the height of a violent campaign by fans upset with the team for signing
two Muslim players from Chechnya.
Despite the gag order placed on the investigation, Tuesday afternoon saw an announcement by Jerusalem District Police Commander Yossi Pariente, who informed reporters that the suspects are members of the club's ultras fan club - La Familia.
La Familia 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 Feb. 8 arson attack followed a decision by team management to break from tradition and sign
Under arrest (Photo: Haim Zach)
During the investigation one of the suspects admitted to the allegations and was brought before a judge to extend his remand, as was the second suspect. Later, a third suspect was arrested, a resident of the north, in suspicion of involvement in the incident.
Pariente told reporters, "I am happy to say that Jerusalem District Police have broken the case. Two suspects, affiliated with the La Familaia (fan organization) have been arrested.
"One has admitted his involvement in the crime and assisted in its reenactment for the police. There is much evidence tying the suspects to the events and further arrests are expected. We will continue our fight against racism," he said.
Fire's aftermath (Photo: Alex Kolomoisky)
Moria District Police Commander Haim Blumenfeld said: "We worked around the clock to find the culprits behind this crime. From the get-go it was clear to us that the arson was motivated by racism and its goal was to frighten the club in wake of the signing of Chechen players.
"At first we arrested four suspects, all leaders of the La Familia (fan organization). Their arrest assisted us in proceeding in our investigation and finally led us to two suspects, from the south of Israel
and in their mid-20s."
Special investigation unit head Eli Cohen said: "This is an organization of people affiliated with the La Familia organization. We are currently investigating into their intention to perpetrate future crimes.
"We know for a fact that their act was premeditated, and on the evening in question they took a number of preliminary steps, and afterwards proceeded to cover their tracks in a clear attempt to throw the police off their scent."
The Israeli Football Association welcomed the arrests, saying: "We praise the police's success in apprehending the men behind the Bayit VeGan arson.
"The police have proved they are uncompromisingly enlisted in the fight to uproot racism from Israeli soccer. We can only hope they will be joined in this struggle by the judiciary in creating a deterring punishment for offenders."