(TheBlaze/AP) — Angry residents rampaged through an Egyptian port city in an assault that killed least 27 people Saturday after a judge sentenced nearly two dozen soccer fans to death for involvement in a deadly riot after a game last year.
The unrest was the latest in a bout of violence that has left a total of 38 people dead in two days, including 11 killed in clashes between police and protesters marking Friday’s second anniversary of the uprising that overthrew longtime leader Hosni Mubarak.
The violence in Port Said erupted after a judge sentenced 21 people to death in connection with the Feb. 1 soccer melee that killed 74 fans of the Cairo-based Al-Ahly team. Executions in Egypt are usually carried out by hanging, but must be approved by the Grand Mufti and finalized by the courts first.
Judge Sobhi Abdel-Maguid did not give his reasoning when he read out the verdicts for 21 out of the 73 defendants Saturday. The verdict for the remaining 52 defendants, including nine security officials, is scheduled to be delivered March 9. Some have been charged with murder and others with assisting the attackers.
Die-hard soccer fans from both teams, known as Ultras, hold the police at least partially responsible for February’s violence, which was the world’s worst soccer violence in 15 years, saying officers at the game did nothing to stop the bloodshed. They also criticize Egypt’s President Mohammed Morsi for doing little to reform the police force or the judiciary since he took office in July.
It began last year when Al-Masry fans stormed the pitch after a game ended, attacking Cairo’s Al-Ahly fans. Authorities subsequently shut off the stadium lights, plunging the area into darkness, causing the crowd to panic and push against the exit gate until it broke open. Many were crushed beneath the mob of people trying to escape.
But other survivors said it was simply bloodthirsty Al-Masry fans and lack of enough security that led to the deaths of their colleagues. While both sides blame police for failing to perform the usual searches for weapons, supporters of the teams seem divided over the ruling. Al-Masry fans are outraged, while Al-Masry fans are exultant.
Immediately after Saturday’s verdict was read live on state TV, two policemen were shot dead outside Port Said’s main prison when angry relatives tried to storm the facility to free the defendants. Police fired tear gas and rubber bullets, as well as live rounds, at the crowd outside the prison.
In other parts of the city, residents tried to storm the governor’s office, police stations, the power station and the main court building. Residents occupied one police station in the east of Port Said.
The director of hospitals in Port Said, Dr. Abdel-Raham Farah, said two local soccer players were shot to death as they were seemingly on their way to practice. One was shot three times, the doctor said.
The military was deployed in Port Said to try to restore security, but assaults continued into the evening. “The police are thugs!” yelled relatives of the deceased inside the courtroom before the judge took the bench.
Near Cairo’s Tahrir Square, where tens of thousands had amassed to mark the two-year anniversary a day earlier, Ultras Al-Ahly waved their team’s red flag as they clashed with police who fired tear gas to disburse the crowd near Cabinet headquarters and Parliament.
Anger is boiling in Port Said, where residents say they have been unfairly scapegoated.
“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 color.
Fans of Al-Ahly, whose stands were attacked by rival club Al-Masry in the incident in Port Said, had promised more violence in the days leading up to the verdict if the death penalty was not handed down.
Before the judge could read out the names of the 21, families erupted in relief, yelling “Allahu Akbar!” Arabic for “God is great,” with their hands in the air and waving pictures of the deceased. One man fainted while others hugged one another. The judge smacked the bench several times to try to restore calm in the courtroom.
“This was necessary,” said Nour al-Sabah, whose 17-year-old son Ahmed Zakaria died in last year’s melee. “Now I want to see the guys when they are executed with my own eyes, just as they saw the murder of my son.”
Thousands of Al-Ahly fans gathered outside the Cairo sports club for the verdict, chanting against the police and the government.
“We are not really that happy,” Mohamed Ahmed, a survivor of the attack, said. “The government helped the Ultras of Port Said by blocking the gates of the stadium until people suffocated to death.
The AFP has video of the increasingly chaotic mob scene:
Associated Press writer Mariam Rizk contributed to this report.