Skinhead teens jailed for Moscow racist murders


MOSCOW - A Moscow court has jailed a group of skinheads for murdering 19 migrants in a racist killing spree, part of a wave of violence against immigrants in Russia.

Attacks on migrant workers have risen this year and political analysts fear the global economic crisis, which is hitting Russia hard, may aggravate the problem.

Led by a student of religious icon painting, the seven teenaged skinheads killed the migrants and tried to murder 12 others between August 2006 and October 2007.

"Even in Russia, this was an extraordinary attack because of the number of crimes committed," said Alexander Verkhovsky from the Sova Centre, which tracks racism in Russia.

Television pictures from the court showed the group's members with close-cropped hair standing behind a glass wall, grinning and smiling.

The judge yesterday sentenced them to between six years in prison and 20 years hard labour.

Resentment towards migrants, mainly from the former Soviet states in Central Asia and the Caucasus, has grown on the margins of society since the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991.

"Of course there is a high chance that attacks on migrants will increase, partly because there will be more migrants here looking for work and partly because the press has been telling people that immigrants are taking their jobs," said Gavhar Djuraeva of Migrants and the Law.

While pledging to fight racism, prime minister Vladimir Putin has also said that immigrant quotas should be halved, a slogan pro-Kremlin youth groups have since echoed.

Many of the 10 million migrants work on construction sites, in markets and as road sweepers. .

Mr Verkhovsky said there was a difference between a surge in attacks by racists, who often film the events on their mobile phones to boast of their exploits, and by people blaming immigrants for the economic slowdown.

"More people may support nationalist groups because of the economic crisis, but they are unlikely to participate in violent attacks," he said. - (Reuters)