A Russian court has 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 including a videotaped decapitation of one of their own gang members.
Moscow City Court sentenced five members of the National Socialist Society North to life, giving another seven members between 10 and 23 years each. One was handed an eight-year suspended sentence.
The defendants were mostly men in their 20s. 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."
During the 18-month trial, the court heard that the gang hunted mostly darker-skinned labour 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 2008.
The youths ganged up on apparent foreigners and stabbed them with knives, metal rods and sharpened screwdrivers, the court heard, in brutal attacks co-ordinated by the gang's leader, Lev Molotkov, who paid about 10 dollars to each assailant.
According to court papers, Molotkov testified that that during a new year toast on December 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 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.
The sentencing came as a loose group of nationalists announced a coalition with the country's third-largest political party, potentially giving a growing nationalist 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".