A French court on Thursday jailed three Russian football supporters over Euro 2016 fan unrest while a far-right Russian agitator was thrown out of the country.
The jailed supporters — Alexei Yerunov, Nikolai Morozov and Sergei Gorbachev — were among 43 Russians detained by French police on Tuesday after street battles in Marseille before Russia played England.
French prosecutors said 20 fans will be expelled from France, including Alexander Shprygin, head of Russia’s national supporters’ association who works for an ultra nationalist lawmaker.
The trials in Marseille of the three supporters marked the first time Russian fans have faced a court over the violence on Saturday which left 35 people injured. Six Britons have been jailed.
Yerunov, 29, a supporters’ liaison officer at Lokomotiv Moscow according to the club’s website, received the longest prison sentence of 24 months.
He admitted being in video footage of an attack on an English supporter who was beaten on the head with an iron bar and left in a critical state. He denied being responsible however.
“I apologise. I recognise that I was there but I didn’t hit anyone. My hands are clean,” Yerunov told the court.
Gorbachev, 33, who leads a supporters’ club at Russian second division club Arsenal Tula, was jailed for 18 months and 28-year-old Morozov received the shortest sentence of 12 months.
– ‘It was a hunt’ –
Prosecutor Andre Ribe described the rampage through Marseille’s Vieux Port district.
“It was a hunt. They ran off together, staying in a group and keeping enough energy for what they call ‘the fight’,” he said.
Marseille’s prosecutor said information from Russian police had helped catch the hooligans.
The information was received “late, but better late than never,” said Brice Robin.
Investigators were studying security camera footage of the attacks that left two English supporters in an “extremely serious” state, he added.
Prosecutors want to bring attempted murder charges.
The Russian supporters’ association headed by Shprygin said 20 supporters of the 43 supporters originally held would be thrown out of France within five days.
“French authorities say they have taken this decision for security reasons because they consider that the supporters waiting to be expelled are a potential threat,” the association said in a statement.
The arrest of the Russians turned into a diplomatic incident on Wednesday when Moscow summoned France’s ambassador to protest. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov described the arrests as “absolutely unacceptable”.
French authorities said the other 20 supporters in the group would be freed.
– Alert in Lens –
Tens of thousands of England and Wales fans were in Lille and Lens for England’s 2-1 win over British rivals Wales on Thursday.
The match was played in Lens where schools were closed for the day.
Security forces watched English fans closely after 36 people were arrested Wednesday in Lille as riot police fired teargas at groups of fans.
Kevin English, a 53-year-old plumber, was drank beer in Lens while nursing a bruised and cut eye after fighting with Russian fans in Marseille.
“I was by myself having a drink in the Old Port when a group of Russians came out of nowhere and attacked me. They stamped on me. I have bruises all over my body,” he told AFP.
The Germany-Poland game in Paris on Thursday night is also considered a hooligan risk.
Russia has been formally warned by UEFA that they could be thrown out of the competition if their fans cause any more trouble in stadiums. England have also been warned about their fans’ conduct.
– Questions over 2018 World Cup –
Meanwhile, the presence of Shprygin among the 20 expelled fans raises fresh questions about Russia’s hosting of the 2018 World Cup.
Shprygin, an aide to nationalist Russian lawmaker Igor Lebedev, told Russian media last year that he wanted to see “Slavic faces” in the Russian squad.
His boss Lebedev has praised the Russian fans for the Marseille mayhem and told them to “carry on lads”.
French police have made 323 arrests since the start of the violence-marred championship, the interior ministry said on Thursday.
Security forces fear the tournament could be a terrorist target and the worries were reinforced after the murder of two police officers near Paris this week by a Frenchman with links to the Islamic State jihadist group.
Northern Ireland were celebrating a 2-0 win over Ukraine when players and staff were informed that a second supporter following the team in France had died.
The man in his sixties suffered a suspected heart attack in the Stade de Lyon, three days after 24-year-old Darren Rodgers fell to his death from a beachside promenade in Nice. – Agence France-Presse