An Egyptian court today handed down 21 death sentences in connection with the deadly riot last year at a football stadium in Port Said located along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea.
The defendants sentenced on Saturday are mostly members of the “Ultras,” die-hard football fans who support Port Said’s al-Masry squad.
At least 74 people were killed in the riot on February 1, 2012, which began minutes after the final whistle in a game between al-Masry and the Cairo-based al-Ahly.
Al-Masry fans stormed the pitch after their team won, throwing stones, bottles and fireworks at al-Ahly supporters. Witnesses said that police at the stadium did nothing to stop the violence, which set off days of violent protests in the capital Cairo.
The verdicts are not final; death sentences must be approved by Egypt’s grand mufti.
Dozens of other defendants, including security officials accused of failing to stop the violence, are expected to receive their verdicts on March 9.
Following the court’s verdict, violence erupted in Port Said, northeast of Egypt’s capital, leading to the death of twenty-two people after protesters took to the street angry that people from their city had been blamed for a soccer disaster, state television said.
More than 200 people were also injured, state television reported, citing the Health Ministry.
Stunned by the verdict, thousands of people in Port Said, north east of Cairo, took to the streets in rage, throwing stones at security forces.
Many local people encircled the prison where the defendants are locked, attempting to free them.
In sharp contrast, the verdict was greeted with cheers and fireworks by thousands of Al Ahly supporters who had congregated outside the Cairo-based team’s building since the early hours of the day.
Families of the victims of the ‘Port Said riot’ were very happy with the verdict, with some of them reportedly so filled with joy that they fainted.
Seventy-four people were killed and 254 injured, in what has come to be known as the “Port Said Massacre”, and the worst sporting tragedy in the history of the North African country.