Egypt: Riots kill 30 after football verdicts

Fans of Cairo team Al-Ahly celebrate the verdicts yesterday after a judge sentenced 21 people, fans of Port Said rivals Al-Masry, to death for a match riot in which a total of 74 people were killed last February. Photograph: Amr Nabil/AP
Fans of Cairo team Al-Ahly celebrate the verdicts yesterday after a judge sentenced 21 people, fans of Port Said rivals Al-Masry, to death for a match riot in which a total of 74 people were killed last February. Photograph: Amr Nabil/AP
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AT LEAST 30 people, including two footballers, have been killed in riots sparked by death sentences given to 21 football fans convicted of violence after a game in Port Said last year, Egyptian security officials said yesterday.

Most were killed in assaults on the governor’s office, courthouse and prison after the sentence was handed down during a trial outside Cairo, the officials added.

Two policemen were also shot dead outside the capital’s main prison when angry relatives tried to storm the
building. Troops were called out last night in a bid to restore order.

The judge delivered the death sentences on Al-Masry football fans over the deaths of 74 fans from Cairo rival Al-Ahly during a riot at a cup match in Al-Masry’s home ground in Port Said on 1 February last year.

The verdicts followed deadly clashes between police and demonstrators on Friday, the second anniversary of the uprising that overthrew strong-man leader Hosni Mubarak. Such cycles of violence, often lasting weeks and costing dozens of lives, have occurred regularly over the past two years.

Die-hard football fans from both teams, known as ultras, hold the police at least partly responsible for the 2012 Port Said deaths and criticise Egypt’s president Mohammed Morsi for doing little to reform the force. Al-Ahly ultras have been at the forefront of protests. But anger is also boiling in Port Said, where residents say Al-Masry fans have been unfairly scapegoated.

The army was widely used to keep order by top generals who took over after Mubarak was ousted, but the military has kept a much lower profile since Morsi was elected as president in June.

The military was also deployed on Friday night in the city of Suez after eight people died in clashes between security forces and protesters ­opposed to Morsi.

Another protester was killed in Ismailiya, and security officials told state news agency Mena that two policemen were killed in Friday’s protests, bringing the death toll on the second anniversary of Egypt’s uprising to 11.

Judge Sobhi Abdel-Maguid read out the death sentences to a stunned court. The judge said in his statement, which was read live on state television, that he would announce verdicts for the remaining 52 defendants on ­9 March. Among those on trial are nine security officials, but none of them were handed sentences yesterday, lawyers and security officials said. Executions in Egypt are usually carried out by hanging.

Fans of Al-Ahly had promised more violence if the accused did not receive death sentences. In the days leading up to the verdict, Al-Ahly supporters had warned of bloodshed and ­“retribution”.

Hundreds of Al-Ahly fans gathered outside the Cairo sports club in anticipation of the verdict, chanting against the police and government.

Before the judge could read out the names of the 21, victims’ families erupted in screams of “Allahu Akbar!”, meaning God is great, waving pictures of the deceased. One man fainted while others embraced. The judge struck the bench in a bid to silence people in the public gallery.

“This was necessary,” Nour al-Sabah, whose 17-year-old son Ahmed died in the 2012 incident, said. “I want to see the men when they are executed with my own eyes just as they saw the murder of my son.”

The verdict is not expected to ease tensions between the two rival teams, and according to residents of Port Said condemns Al-Masry fans to death without explanation. The judge is expected to reveal his reasoning on 9 March.

A lawyer for one of the defendants given a death sentence said the verdict was nothing more than “a political decision”.

“There is nothing to say these people did anything and we don’t understand what this verdict is based on,” Mohammed al-Daw, a Port Said resident, said. “Our situation in Port Said is very grave because kids were taken from their homes for wearing green ­T-shirts,” he said, referring to the Al-Masry team colour.

Last February’s violence began after the Port Said’s home team won the match 3-1. Al-Masry fans stormed the pitch after the game ended, attacking Al-Ahly fans. Authorities shut off the stadium lights, plunging it into darkness. In the exit corridor, the fleeing crowd pressed against a chained gate until it broke open. Many died under the feet of people trying to flee.

Survivors described a nightmarish scene in the stadium. Police stood by doing nothing, they said, as fans of Al-Masry attacked supporters of the top Cairo club.

Al-Ahly survivors said Al-Masry fans carved the words “Port Said” into the dead and dying and stripped them while beating them with iron bars.

While there has long been bad blood between the teams, many blamed police for failing to search for weapons.

Both ultra factions believe former members of the Mubarak regime helped instigate the attack, and that the police were at least grossly negligent, at worst, co-conspirators.