Serb Nationalists Turn Italian Soccer Match Into Battlefield

Italian cops battle thousands of Serb nationalists during Genoa soccer match.

ROME Oct. 13, 2010— -- Italians woke up today to alarming headline of "Guerriglia - Warfare in Genoa."

Violent Serbian far-right nationalist soccer fans who had arrived in the Italian city to watch a European championship qualifying match between Serbia and Italy Tuesday night forced a suspension of the game after only six minutes of play.

The Serbs battled police and police reenforcements as they were herded out of the stadium with skirmishes raging until 2 a.m. today.

Sixteen people, including two police officers, were injured in the running battles outside the stadium. Seventeen people were arrested and another 35 were taken into custody, had their identification confiscated and released.

A focal point of the riots was a hooded and tattooed Serb who was caught in video and press photos throwing firebombs, smashing the stands with a metal bar and inciting the other 2,000 Serbian hooligans.

Italian police finally arrested the man late in the night when he was found hiding in the engine compartment of one of the buses which was to take the Serbian fans home. Although he wore a hood in the stadium, police identified him, thanks to the tattoos on his arms, as the notorious ring-leader and crime-linked hooligan named Ivan Bogdanov. Police also confiscated a variety of weapons including knives, sticks and metal rods.

The Serbian fans first clashed with police earlier Tuesday as they entered the city of Genoa, smashing shop windows and vandalizing streets. The initial burst of violence delayed the start of the match for 45 minutes.

The atmosphere grew tenser before the start of play as the violence and vandalism increased inside the stadium with the hurling of flares onto the field, the tearing down of a mesh fence and the breaking of a glass partition that separated the hard-core fans from the rest of the public.

The match started with both teams looking tense and worried as they played and flares continued to fly. After just six minutes of play the referee ended the match when a flare nearly hit the Italian goalie.

As the Serbian fans left the stadium they clashed with riot police in helmets and shields who tried to herd them onto the buses that would take them home to Serbia.

Reporters were trapped in the stadium with the battle raging outside reported hearing hours of ambulance sirens around the stadium as more and more emergency services arrived at the scene. Extra police were called in from Milan and Turin, but arrived after the violence had started to subside.

Serb Soccer Riot Raged Until 2 a.m.

When the riot finally subsided around 2 a.m., the police escorted the buses of Serbian fans across the Italian border.

The Serbian embassy in Rome today apologized for the riot by the Serbian soccer fans. "These thugs do not represent the sentiments or behavior of the Serbian people," said Ambassador Sanda Raskovic-Ivic. "We are ashamed and we apologize."

In another explosion of nationalist violence, more than 150 people were injured on Sunday in downtown Belgrade, the capital of Serbia, in running battles with police as thousands of far-right demonstrators tried to disrupt the annual Gay Pride march by hurling Molotov cocktails and stun grenades at police.