A Russian court on Monday handed down sentences ranging from 10 years to life in prison to 12 members of the country's most vicious neo-Nazi gang convicted of 27 hate killings, which included a videotaped decapitation of one of their own gang members and other crimes.
The Moscow City Court sentenced five members of the group, the National Socialist Society North, to life, giving another seven members between 10 and 23 years. One was handed an eight-year suspended sentence.
The defendants were mostly men in their 20s and one woman. Most of the gang members had pleaded partial guilt but requested leniency after their lawyers say they were coerced into committing the crimes.
"Irrespective of whether they were fooled or mentally lost, they are evil killers who will never get back to a normal life," said Alexander Kolodkin, the father of one of the victims. "They should be isolated."
A 'chilling' series of rampages
During the 18-month trial, the court heard that the gang hunted mostly darker-skinned labor migrants from Russia's Caucasus region and Central Asia, as well as Africans and South East Asians in a chilling series of rampages that climaxed in February and March of 2008.
The youths ganged up on apparent foreigners and stabbed them with knives, metal rods and sharpened screwdrivers, the court heard, in brutal attacks coordinated by the gang's scrawny leader, Lev Molotkov. He paid about 10 dollars to each assailant. According to court papers, Molotkov testified that that during a New Year's toast on Dec. 31, 2007, he proclaimed 2008 to be "the year of white terror" in Russia.
Molotkov's gang is estimated to have hundreds of members nationwide.
They were also convicted of strangling and decapitating one of their comrades whom they suspected of being a police informant. The decapitation, during which they sang a patriotic song, was videotaped and posted online.
The group's leader and ideologue Maxim Bazylyev, nicknamed Adolf, committed suicide by slitting his wrists and neck in April 2009. Shortly after his suicide another group's activist shot himself.
Their friends and supporters claimed both were killed by police.
A new coalition
The sentencing came as a loose group of nationalists announced a coalition with the country's third-largest political party, potentially giving a growing nationalists movement a louder voice in the country's parliament.
The LDPR party and a group of nationalist politicians and activists said their union would "protect the Russian people and (Russia's) interests."
LDPR stands for the Liberal Democrat Party, but the party has a strong nationalist manifesto and rejects liberal policy. The coalition gives the party access to more a hardline nationalist electorate, which is growing as Russia grapples with heightened tensions among ethnic communities. Parliamentary elections are set for December. The LDPR is represented in the parliament that is dominated by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's United Russia party. Critics say all four parliamentary parties tow the official line, though to varying degrees.
AP writer Nataliya Vasilyeva contributed to this report.