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Serbia 'Dismantles' Soccer-Hooligan Crime Gang

Serbian police escort detained Partizan fan leader Veljko Belivuk (center) during a raid on the Partizan stadium in Belgrade on February 4.

BELGRADE -- Serbian authorities say they have arrested 17 people in a crackdown on a crime syndicate linked to hooligans who support a Belgrade soccer club.

The arrests took place overnight and were the result of a joint operation of Serbian police and the intelligence agency, Interior Minister Aleksandar Vulin said in a statement on February 4.

Vulin said the suspects were accused of murder, extortion, and drug trafficking.

Police official Ninoslav Cmolic said that "the dismantled criminal group was hiding behind" a group of supporters of the Partizan Belgrade soccer club.

Serbia's hard-core soccer fans are notorious for their rowdiness in stadiums, while some have also been accused of using sport as a front for engaging in organized crime.

In recent years, the Balkan country has seen a string of gangland-style killings of members of soccer supporters' groups.

Partizan fan leader Veljko Belivuk, nicknamed Velja Nevolja (Velja the Trouble) and a close associate, Marko Miljkovic, were among those arrested in the overnight raids.

Belivuk has been linked to criminal activity in the past but reportedly managed to avoid prosecution because of his political connections.

With reporting by AP and AFP