MOSCOW - A Russian jury convicted on Thursday a young Muslim man of killing an ethnic-Russian football fan whose murder last year sparked some of the worst ethnic violence in Moscow since the fall of the Soviet Union.
The death of Yegor Sviridov brought thousands of nationalist-minded youth on to the streets where they attacked non-Slavic passers-by in December.
The jury said Aslan Cherkesov fatally shot Sviridov during a brawl between Russian youths and the six defendants, all migrants from the predominantly Muslim North Caucasus region.
The jury said Cherkesov and his companions were guilty of starting the fight and beating Sviridov’s friends. The other five were found guilty of a lesser hooliganism charge.
"(The defendants) agreed to attack a stranger, using a gun," a juror said, reading a statement.
"(Cherkesov) fired at least two shots … then fired another two shots at Sviridov — point blank in the head and at a distance of less than one metre in the stomach."
Cherkesov, sitting in a glass-walled cage in the courtroom along with the other defendants, kept his head bowed as the juror read out the statement.
Ahead of a parliamentary election in December and a presidential poll in March, many analysts regard rising nationalism and tension between ethnic Russians and natives of the turbulent North Caucasus region as one of the biggest threats to stability, hailed by President Dmitry Medvedev and his predecessor Vladimir Putin as their main achievement.
Moscow has become a focal point for racist violence in recent years, given its combustible mix of disenchanted ethnic Russian youth and labour migrants from the Russian Caucasus and impoverished former Soviet republics in Central Asia.
After the brawl Cherkesov and his campanions were taken into custody but all except Cherkesov were later released, Interfax reported, sparking the riots in downtown Moscow.
"This is the worst possible scenario, but we were counting on it in principle," said Cherkesov’s lawyer Dmitry Pankov.
"We will be appealing of course, on a procedural basis," he said. The six will be sentenced next week.
Opponents of Russia’s successful bid to host the 2018 World Cup cited frequent racist incidents involving local fans as one of the reasons to play the tournament elsewhere.
With high unemployment and an Islamist insurgency raging across the North Caucasus, which includes Chechnya, many migrants from the region travel to Moscow in search of jobs.