The assailants of a French soccer fan who died in Belgrade on Tuesday will be tried for first-degree murder as Serbia cracks down on rising street violence, the state prosecutor said.
Brice Taton sustained multiple head and chest injuries when Partizan Belgrade fans attacked him with iron bars and baseball bats on Sept. 17, ahead of a Europa League match against Toulouse. He died 12 days later.
“This is no longer attempted murder, it is first-degree murder and the penalty for this crime is up to 40 years in prison,” public prosecutor Slobodan Radovanovic told Belgrade’s Beta news agency.
“Soccer violence is not just the work of die-hard fans, it involves members of organized crime groups and we have to work with the other state institutions to gather evidence in order to ban their activities,” he said.
Radovanovic said he had asked the Interior Ministry to gather evidence of links between hooligans and organized crime.
Police have arrested 11 suspects, including one they consider the main perpetrator of the attack on 28-year old Taton in front of a central Belgrade bar.
Serbian President Boris Tadic said the government would root out the violence he said threatened the “very basics of civilization.”
Serbia would act “in the most serious and strict way” to tackle “all violent and extreme groups.”
“I was trembling over the French citizen’s fate,” he told reporters in Slovenia, where he was on an official visit. “Serbia is an open and democratic society, where violent groups cannot prosper. That would be unacceptable and all those who participated in that violent act have been caught and will be tried.”
There is increasing concern about violence in Serbia after a string of high-level incidents, including the beating of several foreign nationals and the decision to call off a gay parade after threats by far-right groups to attack it.
A government body appointed to crack down on sports violence said last week it would ban all fan groups engaged in violence and suspected of organized crime, including drugs dealing.
While soccer violence was rare during communist rule in Yugoslavia, it erupted after a series of bloody conflicts tore the country apart.
Taton appears to be the first foreign victim of soccer-related violence in Serbia, though Serbs have died in similar incidents in the last 10 years.
A 17-year-old fan was killed by a flare launched from one end of the stadium to the other in a 1999 Belgrade derby between Partizan and Red Star.
In December 2007, a Red Star fan attacked a plainclothes police officer with a burning flare and in September last year he was sentenced to 10 years in prison for attempted murder.
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