Harsh ruling over Egyptian soccer riot a cause for joy
Relatives of those killed in last year’s soccer riot celebrate, as a Cairo judge hands down 21 death sentences over the horrific violence
There were explosions of joy in Cairo yesterday over a verdict that has seen another Egyptian city engulfed by a wave of violence and unrest.
After a Cairo court sentenced 21 Egyptian soccer fans and club members to death over a deadly riot following a soccer match last year in Port Said, relatives of the victims ululated, hugged and shouted Allahu akbar (God is great).
Their joyful reaction came even as relatives of the condemned tried to storm the Port Said prison where they are being held.
Last February's riots between fans of Port Said home side Al-Masry and Cairo's Al-Ahly killed 74 people, and also sparked days of violent protests in Cairo, in which another 16 people were killed.
One man who lost his son in Port Said wept outside the court, saying: "I am satisfied with the verdict."
Another, Hassan Mustafa, had pinned a picture of his dead friend to his chest and said he was pleased, but wanted "justice served for those who planned the killing."
Many Egyptians believe the violence was orchestrated either by the police or by supporters of ousted president Hosni Mubarak. Die-hard soccer fans from both teams, known as Ultras, criticise Egypt's President Mohammed Mursi for doing little to reform the police force.
Judge Sobhi Abdel-Maguid read out the death sentences related to the riot. Defendants' lawyers said all those sentenced were fans of the Port Said team, Al-Masry.
"This was necessary," said Nour al-Sabah, whose 17 year-old son Ahmed Zakaria died in the 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."
The verdict is not expected to calm tensions between the two rival teams.
The judge is expected to make public his reasons for the death sentences on March 9, when the remaining 52 defendants receive their sentences.
Among those on trial are nine security officials, but none were handed sentences yesterday, lawyers and security officials say.
A Port Said resident and lawyer of one of the defendants given a death sentence said the verdict was nothing more than "a political decision to calm the public".
Fans of al-Ahly, whose stands were attacked by rival club Al-Masry in the soccer riot, had promised more violence if the accused did not receive death sentences.
The violence last February began after Port Said's home team won the match 3-1. Al-Masry fans stormed the pitch after the game ended, attacking Cairo's Al-Ahly fans.
Authorities shut off the stadium lights, plunging it into darkness. In the exit corridor, many were crushed under the crowd of people trying to flee.
Survivors of the riot said police did nothing as fans of Al-Masry attacked opposition supporters, stabbing them and throwing them off bleachers.
Al-Ahly survivors said supporters of Al-Masry carved the words "Port Said" into their bodies and undressed them.
While there has long been bad blood between the two rival teams, many blamed police for failing to perform usual searches for weapons at the stadium.
Additional reporting by Associated Press