THESSALONIKI – As Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis was to convene a meeting about how to curb soccer fan violence, police in Greece’s second-largest city, Thessaloniki, arrested eight over the murder of a student thought to be a rival of their club in an unprovoked attack.
Authorities had issued 10 arrest warrants for people, all aged 20-23, allegedly involved in the murder of 19-year-old Alkis Kampanos, who was beaten and died after being stabbed in the leg with curved karambit knife.
Two of his friends were also injured in the street attack in which two cars full of people pulled out and assaulted them as they were sitting and talking, believed carried out by fans of the team PAOK against Aris fans.
One of the two suspects still at large is known to have fled to neighboring Albania, where his family is located, and Deputy Citizen Protection Minister Lefteris Economou said extradition procedures will be initiated.
Another suspect, a 23-year-old considered by police to be the ringleader of the group that carried the attack, was arrested earlier and charged with murder and attempted murder.
In the wake of the murder, police raided multiple soccer fan clubs in Thessaloniki and the capital Athens, confiscating a number of deadly weapons, authorities said to believe the hangouts are used to store an arsenal and drugs and where plans are drawn up to attack rivals.
The killing, in a city which has a heated rivalry between PAOK and Aris, has shocked the country and drew strong condemnation from political leaders – as it has done before with frequent vows of crackdowns going nowhere.
“How can we let our streets, parks, and squares become the stage for violence between rival gangs, endangering the safety of our citizens?” Greek President Katerina Sakellaropoulou, a former top high court judge, wrote in an online post.
“The damage inflicted on society by such acts will continue as long … as this barbarism and violence on and off the field are cultivated as a display of manhood,” she said.
Supporters’ clubs are often used by violent fans to stage attacks, and among the items seized by police were ice picks, flares, pitchforks and baseball bats – flares have been allowed into stadiums during games.
TOOLS OF TROUBLE
Greece has battled soccer-related violence for decades and league organizers have started inviting referees from other European countries to officiate at important matches to try and address claims of bias at games.
Police say the intended victims were other Aris supporters, who frequented a nearby restaurant, but that the 11 suspects happened by chance upon Kampanos and his friends on the street and asked them which was their favorite team before attacking them.
The Greek police, responding in gangbusters fashion with raids reportedly have also compiled a list of some 300 hooligans to be monitored, who had been questioned over the past months, half of them arrested for sports-related violence, possession of weapons and other crimes.
A police source told Kathimerini that 30 percent are minors, “and the rest are between 20 and 30 years old,” with no reports whether any had been prosecuted as happened with the murder suspect charged previously with an attack but allowed to roam free.
Police also noted that extremist elements and hate groups are inside the clubs, with a social media account maintained by a nationalist organization showing a photo against the backdrop of Panathinaikos’ Gate 13 with hooded men holding banners stating: “There is only one solution to Turkish provocations, reaching the borders of Asia Minor – Solidarity with the Army.”
In another supporters’ account, a caption under a photo of AEK hooligans waving Molotov cocktails and wearing gas masks reads: “AEK, violence, terrorism.”
While the murder set off some shock in Greek society it didn’t surprise law enforcement officials or analysts following sports violence and hooligans allowed to run amok.
“We have been seeing a qualitative leap in the activities of hooligans with the use of knives lately,” a senior ranking Attica police officer not named told the newspaper, running off a list of violent incidents in recent months.
On Nov. 24, on the sidelines of a Panathinaikos women’s volleyball match against Czech Ostrava in Maroussi, police arrested some 57 fans of the Athens club who had knives, screwdrivers, small axes, corkscrews, hammers and other items that could cause physical harm.
On Jan. 15 this year, at a game between Apollon and Aris, 87 fans were detained and 15 arrested after being found to be carrying small axes, knives, screwdrivers, Molotov cocktails, bats, and helmets.
“They turn up to fight with fans of rival groups and then post photos on their social media accounts, mainly on Instagram,” the source told the paper.
(Material from the Associated Press was used in this report)