About 300 angry fans stormed the headquarters of Egypt’s Football Association in Cairo on Wednesday, protesting a decision to resume league games next month before bringing to justice perpetrators of a deadly stadium riot.
The Feb. 1 riot, in which 74 people were killed, erupted in the city of Port Said on the Mediterranean, where Al-Ahly, Egypt’s most popular team, played the home team Al-Masry in a league game. Al-Masry won, 3-1.
The bloody incident sparked days of deadly street violence in Cairo.
Survivors of the stadium riot said Al-Masry supporters stormed the field to attack Al-Ahly fans, stabbing them, stripping them and tossing them off bleachers, while police looked on. Witnesses said the stadium lights were turned off and the gates locked, triggering a suffocating stampede.
The federation shut down the league after the riot. It recently reversed the decision, but officials have not decided whether fans will be allowed at coming matches.
Angry that the league games will begin before court verdicts have been rendered, rabid soccer fans known as Ultras stormed the federation’s office, firing flares at the building and smashing cars belonging to employees.
Fawzi Ghanem, who works at the association, said he saw the Ultras youth breaking glass display cases and stealing trophies on the ground floor of the building. There are hundreds of trophies displayed near the entrance of the building, and it was not known how many were taken in Wednesday’s protest.
Ghanem said the outnumbered security forces were overrun by the Ultras, despite days of warnings from young fans that they would storm the office if league games resume.
The Ultras have long been viewed by authorities as hooligans. They played a major role in street protests against the military council that ruled Egypt for more than a year, and are said to have played a major role in the 18-day popular uprising that toppled longtime leader Hosni Mubarak.
The deaths of so many Al-Ahly supporters, mostly young men in their teens and 20s, continues to stoke fury, particularly because no one has yet been convicted.
Nine senior officers and three Al-Masry officials are among the 73 people charged in the case. Some of the defendants face murder charges. The officers have been charged with assisting the attackers.
Some believe the security forces stood by to punish the Al-Ahly Ultras for their high-profile involvement in the uprising against Mubarak and in subsequent protests.
On Wednesday, the trial was suspended until Sep. 17 to allow the court time to review a request by the defense to replace the judge.
The demonstrators also protested that the Al-Masry team, whose fans were believed to be in part responsible for the deadly riots, will be allowed to play again. The team was banned by Egypt’s Football Association, but the decision was overturned by an international court of arbitration for sports.
The Al-Masry team has said it will forfeit its games this season due to security concerns and because many of its players were allowed to transfer to other teams.
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