Police in northern Greece on Thursday detained seven Romanian men carrying knives and protective gear, amid concerns that a deadly soccer-related attack this week could attract more groups of violent supporters from around Europe.
The seven men were arrested near the Greek border with Bulgaria after police found three knives during vehicle inspections, as well as cans of spray paint and protective gear normally used for boxing, authorities said.
Greek club Olympiakos faces Genk of Belgium later Thursday in qualifying for the Europa League in Piraeus, near Athens, under heightened security. Greek authorities remain on alert after a 29-year-old Greek fan was stabbed to death late Monday outside AEK Athens’ stadium, prompting the cancellation of a Champions League qualifier against Dinamo Zagreb.
More than 100 fans were arrested, mostly Dinamo supporters, and remain in police detention after the blanket charge of murder and membership of a criminal organization was issued by a public prosecutor.
Despite angry protests from AEK calling for the Croatian club to be suspended from European competition, the two teams will meet in Zagreb next week.
Militant supporters’ clubs have longstanding alliances across Europe and often travel to attend games abroad, fuelling local rivalries and the potential for violence.
Police are examining video footage from the scene of the attack, outside AEK’s Opap Arena north of Athens, along with makeshift weapons gathered by forensic officers and cell phones and DNA samples taken from the arrested supporters.
Despite the increased police presence in the Greek capital, a group of youths on Thursday attacked a cafe in central Athens next to a stadium used by Athens club Panathinaikos. Police detained 11 people after storefront windows were smashed, authorities said. The Greek fan killed this week, Michalis Katsouris, will be buried Friday at his hometown of Elefsina, west of Athens, while the suspects in the attack again appear in court to answer to the charges. A statement from the victim’s family urged funeral attendees to make donations to a children’s cancer charity in his name. “Michalis was kind and open hearted, and volunteered to fight forest fires and help the homeless, and he had a strong faith in God,” a family statement said. “That is why we, his family, are asking for donations to be made in his name … to help young children in need.”