Athena Institute Investigations


Death Squad (Serial killer group targeting the Roma)

  • Year of formation: 2008
  • Presumed No. of members: 4
  • Presumed seat: Debrecen
  • Presumed leader(s): István K., Árpád K., Zsolt P., István Cs.
  • Ideology: racist extremism
  • Threat level: 7
  • Active/Inactive: Inactive

Last updated: 18. 11. 2013.

The Death Squad was the first to commit racially motivated serial killings in Hungary. According to police records, in 2008 and 2009 they murdered six Roma Hungarians, fired 78 shots in total and threw 11 Molotov cocktails and put 55 people in clear physical danger. The aim of the serial killings, which could clearly be classified as acts of domestic terrorism, was to intimidate an entire community.

In early August, 2013, three members of the Death Squad, Árpád Kiss, István Kiss and Zsolt Pető, were sentenced to life imprisonment without the chance of parole by the Hungarian court. The fourth member of the group, István Csontos, was also sentenced by the court to 13 years in a maximum security prison. The sentences are not final because all four defendants appealed against them, furthermore, in the case of the fourth defendant, the prosecutors office also appealed for a harsher sentence.

In mid-May, 2013, the trial of the members of the Death Squad (perpetrators of the anti-Roma serial killings) is at the closing arguments. The prosecutor asked for real life imprisonment for three of the defendants and almost fifteen years for the fourth one.

The organization is inactive.

The name was given to the extremist group following a fact finding piece that appeared on the killings in the Hungarian daily ‘Magyar Nemzet’. The name ‘Death Squad’ was subsequently adopted by the Hungarian media and the general public.

The group did not pursue propaganda activities or made any recruitment efforts. According to the records of police investigations one member was a war veteran who received military training. The Prosecution Service argued that the premeditated killings were committed irrespective of the gender and age of the victims and were directly targeted against the Hungarian Roma community. The hunting weapons used for the killings were obtained illegally, by armed robbery.

Police investigation has recovered evidence that the each killing was committed by two members of the hate group while a third member was waiting in a vehicle. According to the Prosecution Service the attacks were devised by Árpád K. whose computer contained details of additional targets (the mayor of Kisléta, further attacks in Erdőkertes, Kisvárda and Hajdúhadház).

Members of the hate group are presumed to have carried out attacks in the following nine locations prior to their arrest.

The first attacks were carried out in 2008 in Galgagyörk, an area largely populated by Hungarian Roma. They fired targeted shots at houses in the area, 30 in total from handguns and shotguns. These attacks caused no injuries.

The next attack was carried out in the summer of 2008, they threw Molotov cocktails on the houses of two Roma families, a woman sustained grave injuries. Attacks continued throughout the fall of 2008, shots were fired at Roma houses and several Molotov cocktails were thrown into the yards of houses in Nyíradony and Tarnadob.

The group committed the first murder in Nagycsécs in November 2008. They threw a Molotov cocktail and fired shots at two houses in which Roma people lived, the houses stood one facing the other. A 43 year old man and a 40 year old woman were shot dead as they attempted to escape from the burning houses. Zsolt P. was named by the Police as the presumed killer.

Several people were seriously wounded in December 2008 when targeted shots were fired at people who were staying in the yard of a house of a Roma family.

In February 2009 a 28 year old father and his five year old son were shot dead in Tatárszentgyörgy. The family was trying to escape from the fire caused by a Molotov cocktail when the shots were fired. Two other children were also injured. The Police named István K. as the suspected killer.

The hate group committed the next murder in Tiszalök on 22 April 2009. A 53 year old man was shot dead in the street as he was going to work at dawn. The suspected killer is Árpád K.

Members of the group made themselves heard one last time on 3 August 2009 when they executed a Roma woman by shooting her from close range, her 13 year old daughter sustained life threatening injuries. The Police suspects the murder was committed by István K.

The four suspects were arrested in a bar in Debrecen on 21 August 2009. Maps recovered during the investigation and other data suggest that the suspects planned further attacks against members of the Hungarian Roma community. 

On March 25, 2011 the criminal trial of the ’Death Squad’ has opened. The precedent case is followed by intense national and international media attention.

According to unconfirmed press reports, it is supposed that Árpád K. - one of the four members of the ‘Death Squad’ suspected of committing the serial murder of six Roma Hungarians - sought to cooperate with István Györkös leader of neo-Nazi Hungarian National Front hate group. As National Police records leaked to the press details, István Cs., another member of the extremist group, was also in contact with National Front.

On May 25, 2011 Árpád K. pleaded guilty in the first attack of the serial killings carried out in 2008 in Galgagyörk. He admitted that the aim of the criminal act was to intimidate the entire Hungarian Roma community. On a video presented to the Court, he described in detail the circumstances of the armed assault.

On July 6, 2011 the chief witness of criminal trial of the ’Death Squad’ referring to her health statement retracted her original confession in which she had given evidence against four members of the hate group. Before, Istvan Cs. one of the accused, claimed that the woman was being aware of the crimes.

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