Four men went on trial Friday for deadly late-night attacks against Gypsies in Hungary, and prosecutors told the court those village raids were planned with military precision.
Six people _ including a young man and his 5-year-old son _ were shot to death, five sustained life-threatening injuries and five others were seriously wounded in the attacks between July 2008 and August 2009.
Zsolt Peto, Istvan Csontos and brothers Arpad and Istvan Kiss are charged with murder and other crimes in nine attacks that targeted Gypsies, also known as Roma, who are among Hungary's poorest and most vulnerable citizens.
Relatives of the victims, survivors of the attacks, Roma politicians and dozens of journalists attended the first session of the trial at the Pest County Courthouse, where prosecutors read out a 90-page indictment. A verdict is not expected before December.
Prosecutors say the group used shotguns, a hunting rifle and fire bombs.
Robert Csorba, whose 27-year-old son and 5-year-old grandson were killed, said he had to take a sedative to calm down before entering the crowded courtroom.
"I have bad feelings about attending, but it has to be done," Csorba said. "I hope it will be revealed who killed my son and my grandson."
Because of its brutality and the clear innocence of the victims _ one of Csorba's granddaughters was also injured in the shootings _ the Feb. 23, 2009 attack on the Csorba family marked a turning point in Hungarian public opinion regarding the serial killings
At first, speculation about the attacks centered on Roma disputes or possible intimidation by loan sharks.
Prosecutors said the accused were motivated partly by vigilantism and wanted to frighten and provoke the Roma community into acts of reprisal.
"The men prepared and organized the attacks with caution worthy of a military maneuver," the prosecutors' indictment said, detailing how they meticulously planned everything from attack positions to escape routes.
Three of the men had undergone basic military training, and Csontos once served as a driver for the NATO-led KFOR peacekeeping mission in Kosovo.
The first four attacks resulted in damage and injuries but no deaths. In the fifth attack, the men allegedly firebombed a house in Nagycsecs, in northeastern Hungary, and shot an adult brother and sister to death.
Emboldened by the killings, the group made murder their main objective, prosecutors said.
Roma, who make up about 6 percent of Hungary's 10 million people, often face discrimination in schools, housing and jobs.
Playing to fears of "Gypsy crimes" and exploiting Hungary's economic hardships, the far-right Jobbik party won unprecedented support in the 2010 parliamentary elections, finishing third with nearly 17 percent of the votes.
While the Hungarian Guard, a uniformed group affiliated with Jobbik, was banned by authorities in 2009, similar associations have surfaced.
Human rights advocates welcomed the long-awaited trial and called on authorities to step up against extremist acts.
"The trial has to send a decisive message to society that the Roma community has to be protected from racially motivated violent attacks and harassment," Amnesty International said.