At least 71 people were killed Wednesday in violence following a football match in Port Said, when fans flooded the field seconds after a match against a rival team was over, the Health Ministry said Thursday. Without giving specific figures, Deputy Health Minister Hesham Shiha said in a statement that hundreds were injured.
A security official and a medic said fans of the home team, Masry, swarmed the field after a rare 3-1 win against Ahly, Egypt's top team. They threw stones, fireworks, and bottles at Ahly fans and injured some players.
The trouble started in the second half of the match when a small group of Ahly fans raised a banner insulting their rivals. But many of those present pointed out the conspicuous and near complete absence of security forces and their abandonment of regular protocol in securing football matches as the main culprit behind so many people dying in less than one hour.
Some political actors and commentators are drawing connections between the football-related violence and attempts in Parliament to put an end to the State of Emergency, which Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi recently said would only be applied to acts of “thuggery.”
“What happened cannot be a coincidence. This massacre and three armed robberies happened only one day after the Interior Minister came to Parliament trying to convince us of the importance of maintaining the State of Emergency,” Ziad al-Elaimy, an MP with the Social Democratic Party, said in a post-match television interview.
Eye witnesses confirm that security was largely absent when the Masry fans stormed the field. They also claim that security forces allowed Masry fans to enter the visiting team’s stands.
“Security forces are supposed to secure the fans’ exits with an iron fist. Protocol calls for them to close all gates leading to the visiting team’s fans until they are sure of their security,” said Adel Aql, a football association official, in an interview with ONTV. Aql blamed security forces’ handling of the situation for the large number of deaths.
“This is a massacre. I’ve never seen as many dead bodies in one place at one time out of all the wars I’ve witnessed,” said Port Said MP Al-Badry Farghaly in a television interview.
Farghaly confirmed reports that the Port Said governor and the city’s head of security did not attend the match, which is uncommon for matches between the two teams, who have a long rivalry.
A medic at a morgue in Port Said said some of the dead were security officers. He was speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to reporters.
According to Shiha, a majority of the deaths were caused by blows to the head resulting from projectiles, trampling or direct blows.
The security official said fans chased players and cornered their supporters on the field, throwing stones and bottles at them.
The players were later taken to the locker room for protection, Sayed Hamdi, a player, told state TV.
"One of the fans died in the dressing room,” Ahmed Nagi, an Ahly goalkeeping coach, said on Egyptian state television. “And there were thousands of wounded lying in the hallways.”
Field Marshal Tantawi dispatched two military planes to transfer the injured, the Ahly team, its staff and supporters from Port Said to Cairo, according to state TV. He appeared on television later in the night, saying that the events in Port Said will not affect Egypt's security. When a reporter asked if he planned to dismiss the governor of Port Said, the field marshal said he was awaiting an investigation.
Egyptian state TV showed protesters setting fire to the Cairo Stadium after a football match between the Zamalek team, one of the most popular clubs, and the Ismailia team. The teams were tied 2-2 when the match was called off.
Zamalek coach Hassan Shehata decided not to continue the second half of the match after violent clashes erupted simultaneously in Port Said Stadium between Ahly and Masry fans.
Samir Zaher, chairman of the Egyptian Football Association, decided tonight to suspend indefinitely Egypt’s Premiere League in response to incident.
Parliament decided to hold extraordinary session Thursday morning to discuss the events. State-run Middle East News Agency reported that Parliament speaker Saad al-Katatny called for the session.
Independent MP Amr Hamzawy said on his Twitter account Wednesday evening that Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim must be dismissed along with head of the security and governor of Port Said and that he sent Katatny a message demanding that an emergency session of Parliament be held.
Dr. Ehab Ali, Ahly team doctor, called the violence in Port Said Stadium “a war that had been planned” and demanded a prompt investigation. He added that the field was in a state of chaos. Ali’s comments came during a phone call to a program on the Ahly television channel.