A lawyer for a man accused of burning a copy of the Koran in Russia says that the suspects in the case are believed to be members of a neo-Nazi group that authorities have blamed for several killings and other crimes against ethnic minorities.
Defense lawyer Oksana Mikhalkina said that her client was one of 12 suspects in a case that covers several incidents, including a video posted on the Internet in January 2014 depicting a group of men and teenage boys burning a copy of the Muslim holy book, state-run news agency TASS reported on May 13.
Mikhalkina said that several of the suspects, 11 of whom are in custody, were minors when the video surfaced and some are still under 18.
"They are all neo-Nazis," TASS quoted her as saying.
The criminal case targets alleged members of 14/88, a Russian extremist group whose alleged leader, 24-year-old Aleksandr Sokolov, is one of the 12 suspects and was arrested last year.
The phrase 14/88 is seen as a reference to the late white supremacist and convict David Lane, with 14 referring to the number of words in one of his statements and 88 to his 88 precepts -- or sometimes the eighth letter in the alphabet, standing for Heil Hitler.
Last week, police said that three teenagers suspected of being members of 14/88 had been detained outside Moscow and confessed to the killings of several Central Asians since 2005.
Mikhalkina said police were looking for other alleged members of the group, which she said was also suspected of organizing a series of attacks dubbed "White Wagon" in which assailants rushed into commuter-train cars in and around Moscow and severely beat people who did not look Slavic.
She said that Sokolov and his alleged associates are also suspected of beating a group of Tajiks with metal bars. One of the victims later died.
The video clip that sparked the investigation showed at least two men, whose faces were not visible, burning a Russian translation of the Koran and cursing the book.
Later in the video, the same voices can be heard demanding that a frightened young man on a Moscow subway train who appeared to be from Central Asia "denounce Allah." The victim was nursing a head injury and appeared to have just been beaten.
The video also featured a Russian nationalist flag and an anti-Chechen song.
Russian media have quoted police as saying Sokolov initially agreed to make a deal with investigators but changed his mind after eight of his alleged associates were arrested.
Sokolov and the other suspects have been charged with "premeditated infliction of health damage based on ethnic, racial and religious hatred," and "inciting hatred or animosity."