OCCUPIED JERUSALEM - Facing the anger of racist fans, an Israeli football club broke into fire early on Friday, February 8, following a rising conflict with some of its racist supporters over the signing of two Muslim footballers from Chechnya.
The offices were torched in the early hours of the morning and we have opened an investigation, Jerusalem police spokesman Shmulik Ben Ruby told Agence France Presse (AFP), adding that no suspects had so far been identified.
The room of Beitar Jerusalem's building superintendent Meir Harush in the soccer team's training grounds in the capital was set on fire early Friday.
The room contained team paraphernalia including trophies, championship plates, special team shirts and other memorabilia.
An initial Fire Services investigation points to arson. Jerusalem's Fire Services spokesman Assaf Abers said serious damage was caused to the site.
At about 5 am we received a call about a fire at the Beitar Jerusalem offices, apparently made by a patrol officer who had heard the fire alarm go off, Avers told Ynet News.
Two teams arrived at the scene and put out the fire. We are investigating the matter.
Beitar Jerusalem club has been facing troubles from extremist fans after signing in two Chechen players; Zaur Sadayev and Dzhabrail Kadiyev, from Russian premier league club Terek Grozny.
Coming under fierce criticism from some of the team's fan base, who oppose having Muslims or Arabs play for Beitar, the attack occurred as police said they would work to crack down on racism in the club's fan base.
It took place hours after prosecutors on Thursday filed charges against four Beitar supporters accused of racist chants aimed at the Muslim players during a match and at a training session.
Three supporters, aged 22 to 24, were accused of shouting chants including Death to Arabs and May your village burn during a recent Beitar match against Bnei Yehuda in the capital.
Another indictment was filed against a 23-year-old Jerusalem resident who was accused of trying to break into the team's training ground with the intent of sabotaging the introduction of Sadayev and Kadiev.
According to Beitar officials, security cameras surrounding the facility will likely help to catch the perpetrators.
The racist attack targeting the football team over Muslim players have also invoked dismay inside Israel.
Those who did this are not fans. They are criminals in every respect, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat told Times of Israel.
This is an act reminiscent of the workings of a crime organization, and the authorities should respond accordingly.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in response that he opposes violence by those who protest the integration of Chechen players into the team.
This is shameful behavior, he added.
This is not the first time Muslim players face racism in Israel.
Nigerian defender Ibrahim Nadalla briefly played for the Israeli team in 2005 but left after experiencing consistent hostility from its supporters.
Arab citizens make up around 20 percent of Israel's population of 7.8 million and no other Israeli club, many of whom have Arab players, has ever effectively barred them.
Arab players have long been included in Israel's national team.
Rifaat Turk, the first Arab to play for Israel's national team during an international career from 1976 to 1986, said Beitar Jerusalem's fans had shown "wanton racism". He called on the IFA to take firm action against the club.