Egypt charges 75 people in deadly soccer riot

Egypt’s top prosecutor on Thursday charged 75 people in

connection with a deadly soccer riot last month in the

Mediterranean city of Port Said in which authorities said fans were

thrown to their death off the stadium walls and others killed by

explosives as they tried to flee.

Scores of fans face murder charges and nine police officers were

accused of complicity in murder, in the Feb. 1 riot that left at

least 74 people dead. It was the world’s worst soccer-related

disaster in 15 years.

The riot began minutes after the final whistle in a league game

between Cairo club al-Ahly and al-Masry of Port Said. The home side

won 3-1 but its fans set upon the rival supporters in a killing

frenzy that witnesses said lasted 30 minutes. Many witnesses

claimed that policemen at the venue did nothing to stop the


The riot shocked soccer crazy Egypt, deepening the sense of

uncertainty felt by many as their nation continues to be roiled by

unrest a year after the ouster of longtime authoritarian leader

Hosni Mubarak. That senior police officers were charged in

connection with the tragedy would lend credence to persistent

claims that the nation’s much hated police were deliberately

turning a blind eye to the wave of violent crime gripping Egypt

over the past year.

Police have yet to fully retake the streets after they melted

away in yet-not-fully-explained circumstances on the fourth day of

the 18-day popular uprising that toppled Mubarak.

An end to police brutality was among the main root causes of the

uprising and many rights activists believe the police’s apparent

reluctance to restore security is payback for their humiliating

defeat in the face of millions of unarmed protesters.

A statement issued by the office of the nation’s prosecutor

general said nine police officers, including six major generals and

a colonel, participated in the Port Said riot by way of

”assistance” to al-Masry fans. They said the officers, along with

several al-Masry officials, knew in advance that the home fans

planned to attack al-Ahly supporters.

They, said the statement, allowed al-Masry fans to exceed by

3,000 the maximum number authorized to attend the game and did not

search any of them for weapons before they were allowed inside the

ground. Many of the charged fans were criminals known to the local

police, it said.

It said the police at the match’s venue did nothing to stop

al-Masry fans from attacking their rivals.

”Those from the police among the defendants failed to take any

measure … to maintain security, protect lives and property,” it

said, in what is probably the strongest official condemnation since

Mubarak’s ouster of the police’s attitude toward the rise of crime

in Egypt.

The nine police officers included Maj. Gen. Issam Samak, who was

Port Said’s chief of security at the time of the riot. Samak has

already been suspended.

The statement said the charges were based on video footage of

the riot and the confessions of suspects. It said the killing of

the protesters was planned in advance and that the culprits

prepared for the massacre with knifes, rocks and explosives. Fans

from the two teams have a history of animosity, but no one had

expected that the heated rivalry could turn murderous.

It described how al-Masry fans threw al-Ahly supports to their

death from the terraces and how they detonated explosives in their

midst as they became trapped in a corridor leading to an exit


Among those charged is the chief electrical engineer of the Port

Said stadium, a fact that alludes to numerous witness accounts that

power inexplicably went out at the venue minutes after the final

whistle. The darkness, according to witnesses, helped the

assailants to attack with impunity.

On Thursday, thousands of al-Ahly fans staged a sit-in outside

the office of the nation’s top prosecutor, Mahmoud Abdel-Maguid, to

protest what they said was the delay in filing the charges and to

demand swift justice.

Many of the fans, known as Ultras Ahlawy, wore the red jersey of

the club, possibly the most popular in Egypt.

The Port Said riot led to the cancellation of the soccer league

and sparked days of clashes in Cairo between police and protesters

accusing the Interior Ministry, which is in charge of police, of

doing nothing to protect al-Ahly fans.

The Egyptian soccer federation has yet to punish al-Masry for

the riot. It is widely expected to relegate the team to a lower

league and ban any official games from being played on its