Israel Says It Busted Neo-Nazi Group

JERUSALEM -- In a case that would seem unthinkable in the Jewish state, police Sunday said they had cracked a cell of young Israeli neo-Nazis accused in a string of attacks on foreign workers, religious Jews, drug addicts and gays.

Eight immigrants from the former Soviet Union have been arrested in recent days in connection with at least 15 attacks, and a ninth fled the country, police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said, in the first such cell known to be discovered in Israel.

All of the suspects are in their late teens or early 20s and have Israeli citizenship, Rosenfeld said. A court decided Sunday to keep them in custody. The young men covered their faces with their shirts during the hearing, revealing their tattooed arms. They did not comment.

News of the arrests came as a shock in Israel, which was founded nearly 60 years ago as a refuge for Jews in the wake of the Holocaust.

The gang documented its activities on film and in photographs. Israeli television stations showed grainy footage of people lying helpless on floors while several people kicked them, and of a man getting hit from behind on the head with an empty bottle.

Police found knives, spiked balls, explosives and other weapons in the suspects' possession, Rosenfeld said. A photo showed a suspect holding an M-16 rifle in one hand and in the other, a sign reading "Heil Hitler," he added.

Police discovered the skinhead ring after investigating the desecration of two synagogues in the central Israeli city of Petah Tikva more than a year ago, Rosenfeld said. Police experts said they maintained contacts with neo-Nazi groups abroad.

Group members wore tattoos of Celtic crosses -- a symbol adopted by white supremacists -- barbed wire fences and the number "88," code for "Heil Hitler" because "h" is the eighth letter of the alphabet.