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Moscow Skinheads Murder 20 Immigrants

After a closed-door trial, a Moscow court found seven teenaged racist skinheads guilty of murdering 20 immigrants during a yearlong killing spree.

After a closed-door trial, a Moscow court found seven teenaged racist skinheads guilty of murdering 20 immigrants during a yearlong killing spree. The sadistic details that emerged from the five-month trial captivated a city where skinhead violence is rampant.

Russian prosecutors said the teenagers, who believed in "the inferiority of non-Slavs," randomly selected and stabbed to death victims based on their Eurasian or dark-skinned features. Most of the victims were from China or Tajikistan, a former Soviet republic that borders China and Afghanistan. A splinter faction of the gang also murdered Sergei Nikolayev, an internationally known chess master from Russia's Far East, by beating him with baseball bats on Oct. 20, 2007.

On Dec. 13, the two 17-year-old leaders of the gang, students Artur Ryno and Pavel Skachevsky, were sentenced to 10 years in prison, the maximum punishment available for juveniles under Russian law. Five other attackers, aged 15 to 22, received sentences ranging from six to 20 years. Two people were acquitted, including a teenage girl who filmed an attack on a Chinese immigrant.

Ryno and Skachesvksy knew each other through their membership in the Slavic Union, a far-right nationalist organization known in Russian as Slavianski Soyouz, or "SS." They were arrested in April 2006 after they stabbed an Armenian businessman in the back as he entered his Moscow apartment complex. A neighbor ran after the two teenagers and tipped off police, who later apprehended them in a tram, covered in blood and carrying two 10-inch blades. At first, police did not believe their boasts of murdering other immigrants. But the killers, now 19, provided corroborating details on several murders. Prosecutors say the 20 killings attributed to the gang all occurred between August 2006 and October 2007.

"Even in Russia, this was an extraordinary attack because of the number of crimes committed," said Alexander Verkhovsky, head of the SOVA Center for Information and Analysis, which tracks Russian ultranationalist groups and hate crimes. In 2008, 113 migrants were murdered in racially motivated attacks and another 340 were wounded, according to a report by the Moscow Human Rights Bureau. Those numbers marked a sharp rise from 2007, when 74 migrants were killed in racist attacks.

Most recently, an ultranationalist group called the Militant Organization of Russian Nationalists took credit for the murder of a Tajik man whose severed head was left in a plastic bag inside a garbage can in Moscow on Dec. 6. A mass E-mail to Russian human rights monitors bearing a photo of the decapitated victim warned the same fate would befall Russian leaders who did not work to halt all non-Slavic immigration.