Deadly Egypt soccer riot flares amid club suspension
Teen killed in clashes pitting police against thousands of angry fans
Egyptian soldiers and police clashed with thousands of angry soccer fans in a Suez Canal city over the suspension of their club following a deadly riot last month, witnesses said Saturday. A medical official said a teenager was killed.
The Feb. 1 riot in the city of Port Said in which at least 73 people died was the world's worst soccer-related disaster in 15 years. The causes remain murky. Officers have been charged with assisting Port Said soccer fans to attack supporters of a Cairo club who had a long history of enmity with the police, and some port residents have claimed that hired outsiders were responsible for much of the killing.
In the latest clashes, Egyptian troops fired volleys of tear gas and shot in the air to disperse protesters affiliated with Port Said's Al-Masry club, angry for what they see as unfair measures against their club and their city. Violence erupted late Friday and continued until early Saturday.
Witnesses said that protesters set fire to tires, blocked major roads and then gathered in front of the Suez Canal's main administrative building in an attempt to storm it. Soldiers and police cordoned off the building.
The official said teenager Belal Mamdouh was killed with a gunshot to the back while 25 were injured, mostly because of breathing difficulties from tear gas. He spoke anonymously because he was not authorized to speak to the press.
Al-Masry suspended by football association
The clashes erupted after the Egyptian Football Association on Friday officially suspended Al-Masry for two seasons ending 2013, and closed its stadium for three years as punishment for the stadium riot.
Protesters also denounced what they described as a media campaign against their club. Hours before the protests broke out, one famous sports presenter, a former soccer goalkeeper, said that the measures were not enough.
The Feb. 1 riot began minutes after the final whistle in a league match between Cairo club al-Ahly, the most popular in Egypt, and Al-Masry. The home side won 3-1, but fans were upset for what they said were obscene signs raised by Al-Ahly club fans.
Survivors of the stadium riot say men wielding batons, knives and fireworks streamed from Al-Masry stands and stormed the field to attack Al-Ahly fans, stabbing them, undressing them and tossing them off bleachers while the police looked on.
Egypt's general prosecutor charged 75 people including nine senior police officers with assisting the attackers from Al-Masry stands. The officers, along with several al-Masry officials, allegedly knew in advance that the home fans planned to attack al-Ahly supporters, yet they were allowed to enter the grounds without being searched for weapons as is customary in soccer matches.
Stadium allegedly 3,000 over capacity
The policemen also allegedly allowed 3,000 more people into the stadium than the maximum number authorized to attend the game.
The prosecution said that many of them were criminals known to the local police. It said the killing of the protesters was planned in advance and that the culprits prepared for the massacre with knives, rocks and explosives. Fans from the two teams have a history of animosity.
Some witnesses have given accounts about "thugs" brought in from outside, but among those charged, more than 60 of them are Al-Masry fans.
The melee sparked days of street protests. Most of the dead were members of the Ultras Ahlawy, a group of avid politicized soccer fans who have long enmity with the police. Ultras have played a key role in the uprising against Hosni Mubarak. Ahly fans regularly taunt the police, who disappeared from the streets during the 18-day upheaval.
Activists have accused the police of turning a blind eye during the riots or even helping organize the attack, in retaliation for the al-Ahly fans' role during the uprising.
A month after the riots, Port Said remains stigmatized. Residents say they are collectively blamed for the violence and have described their situation as a "siege," with merchants and other visitors staying away from the city.