9 Russian neo-Nazis get up to 23 years in prison

The Associated Press/March 2, 2010

Nine young men who formed a neo-Nazi group and killed six non-Slavs were sentenced to prison Thursday, as Russia officials battle a surge in racist assaults, hate crimes and xenophobia.

The Moscow City Court said in a statement that 12 mostly underage neo-Nazis who called themselves "White Wolves" were charged with committing 11 murders and one assault since April 2007. A jury found nine of them guilty of six murders and one assault.

The group was formed on Adolf Hitler's birthday to "exterminate" non-Russians and was active until early 2009, when its members were arrested.

They preyed on Central Asians and other non-Slavs with dark skin or Asian features kicking and stabbing them to death. During the attacks, which were often videotaped to be posted online, they chanted "Russia for Russians!"

Russia has experienced a surge of racist assaults, xenophobia and neo-Nazism in the years since the Soviet collapse. Amid the ongoing economic meltdown, nationalist groups are lashing out at labor migrants from ex-Soviet Central Asia and Russia's poor North Caucasus, accusing them of stealing jobs from ethnic Russians.

In December 2008, a group of mostly underage neo-Nazis was sentenced to prison for murdering 19 people. They also posted videos of their attacks online with detailed instructions on how to kill "underpeople."

Authorities have recently cracked down on the most radical groups, and the number of hate crimes fell last year.

The Sova rights groups said 71 people were killed and 333 wounded in racially motivated attacks last year, down from 110 killed and 487 wounded in 2008.

But human rights advocates say ultranationalists are increasingly resorting to bombings and arson against police and government officials, whom they accuse of condoning the influx of illegal migrants.

Last November, a neo-Nazi group claimed responsibility for the bombing of an express train that killed 27 people earlier that month, and several ultranationalists have been accused of plotting to blow up police stations, conscription offices and a restaurant.

Ultranationalist groups have also stepped up attacks on human rights activists and anti-racist youth groups.

Last October, two members of a radical nationalist group were charged with the Jan. 2009 killing of human rights advocate Stanislav Markelov and a journalist.

Last November, the leader of an anti-racist youth group was gunned down near his Moscow apartment in what his supporters said was an ultranationalist attack.

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