ROME - Police are investigating whether anti-Semitism was behind a brutal attack early Thursday on Tottenham fans out drinking ahead of their team's Europa League match against Lazio. At least one person was stabbed and seven were taken to the hospital, police and witnesses said.
In an apparently well-organized assault, some 50 masked hooligans wielding cobblestones, metal bars and knives attacked the British fans and trashed the "The Drunken Ship" pub in Rome's Campo de' Fiori square, a popular drinking spot where Tottenham fans had gathered on the eve of the game.
Lazio fans were widely suspected, but the club said Thursday there was no proof its supporters were involved and the ANSA news agency reported that one supporter from crosstown rival AS Roma had been arrested. In a statement, Lazio noted that the hooligans' faces were covered, insisted that its fans had been behaving recently and called for a full investigation.
Tottenham supporters are often called the "Yid Army" and the team is known to have a large Jewish fan base from north London. Lazio fans are traditionally right-wing and often use fascist salutes and slogans. Witnesses said the hooligans shouted "Jew" during the attack.
Rome Mayor Gianni Alemanno called for tough justice for those responsible for what he called a "terrible and disgusting" attack. "The anti-Semitic hypothesis increases the seriousness of the aggression," he said in a statement.
Rome police say they detained some of the 50 or so attackers, but acknowledged many got away. Fifteen people were identified and searches were under way Thursday at their homes, police said in a statement.
Blood stained the cobblestones outside the bar, windows and mirrors were smashed and stools and tables were overturned.
"They penned them in the back and they threw everything at them: cobblestones, metal rods, metal bolts, pieces of belts," bar owner Marco Manzi told The Associated Press after returning to survey the damage Thursday morning.
He said the attack seemed well organized, with groups converging on the pub from two directions, their faces covered with motorcycle helmets and scarves, and armed with "every possible thing."
The brawl began sometime after 1 a.m. and was over within 20 minutes, Manzi said. Police said those hospitalized were British men, aged 20-60. One emerged from the hospital Thursday afternoon with a black eye and a bandaged head and foot.
Manzi claimed police were virtually absent from the brawl, though police disputed that and officials noted that pubs have their own private security. Often a police van or two is stationed just a few meters (yards) from "The Drunken Ship," since fights regularly break out in the piazza frequented at night by American exchange students, tourists and young Italians.
"There was a total absence of law enforcement," Manzi said.
He said after the brawl ended inside the pub, the attackers escaped and knifed another victim about 20 metres (yards) away, down a small cobblestone street.
Police said in their statement that their patrol units on duty in Campo de' Fiori alerted headquarters as soon as the fight broke out and that "all available patrols," an ambulance and police reinforcements were quickly sent.
Lazio said it hoped those responsible would be quickly identified so that its fans wouldn't be subject to "unjust" suspicions.
"Lazio fans have shown in recent times to have totally abandoned shows of cowardice and gratuitous physical violence," it said in a statement. "Episodes like what happened last night have nothing to do with football."
Associated Press writer Pietro di Cristofaro contributed to this report.