Officials in St. Petersburg this spring arrested seven members of an extremist group accused of the racially motivated murders of at least six people, a fraction of the 45 people slain in such attacks in Russia since the beginning of 2005.
Police shot an eighth member of the group to death as they tried to arrest him, prosecutors said. Authorities added that they seized weapons, explosives, and neo-Nazi literature when they raided group members' homes in late May.
Several of the murders attributed to the racist gang had gotten headlines around Russia, including the 2004 killing of a Russian anthropologist who was an expert on neo-Nazis and hate crimes. The other alleged victims of the gang were a Senegalese student, an Armenian, a Korean, and two of its own members.
Attacks on foreigners and ethnic minorities in Russia are an almost daily occurrence, with one research organization, the Sova Center, reporting 28 racially motivated murders and 366 racist assaults in 2005. By late May, the Center had reported another 17 murders and 104 violent assaults in the current year.
The arrests followed the release earlier in May of an Amnesty International report, "Russian Federation: Violent Racism Out of Control," that detailed the racist attacks and murders that occur with "shocking regularity" in that country. The violence "seems to be increasing," the report said, noting incidents like the stabbing of nine people by a skinhead who invaded a Moscow synagogue in January.
The Amnesty report noted that official Russian figures say that the country has about 150 extremist groups with approximately 5,000 members, but that a number of nonprofit groups say the real number of members is closer to 50,000.
The report concluded that there is "deep-seated intolerance and xenophobia in many parts of Russian society," and it sharply criticized government authorities for "fail[ing] to convincingly challenge the racist and xenophobic ideas and ideologies, let alone implement a strong program to combat them."