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'People are dying in front of us': Scores killed in riots after Egypt soccer match

At least 70 people died and hundreds were injured after a match between fierce rivals. NBC's Ayman Mohyeldin reports.

Updated 6:48 p.m. ET:

CAIRO -- Soccer fans stormed the field and rioted Wednesday after a match between fierce rivals in the port city of Port Said, attacking each other with fists, stones, fireworks and bottles. More than 70 people were killed in the stampede and hundreds injured in one of the worst incidents of sports violence in Egypt's history.

The melee broke out after fans of Al-Masry, the home team in Port Said, stormed the field after a rare 3-1 win against Al-Ahly, Egypt's top team. Al-Masry supporters hurled sticks and stones as they chased players and fans from the rival team, who ran toward the exits to escape, according to witnesses.

State TV footage showed Al-Ahly players rushing for their locker room as fistfights broke out among the crowd. Some men had to rescue a manager from the losing team as he was being beaten. Black-clothed police officers stood by, appearing overwhelmed.

Rival fans shot firebombs and fireworks and threw stones, bottles and other objects at each other and some players.


The Interior Ministry said 74 people died, including at least one police officer, and 248 were injured, 14 of them police.

Hesham Sheiha, a health ministry official, told state TV that most of the deaths were caused by concussions, deep cuts to the heads and suffocation from the stampede.

YouTube video of soccer violence

 

"This is unfortunate and deeply saddening. It is the biggest disaster in Egypt's soccer history," deputy health minister Hesham Sheiha told state television. The players were later taken to the locker room for protection, Sayed Hamdi, a player, told state TV.

At least 47 people were arrested in connection with the melee, Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim said.

Egypt Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, the head of the country's ruling military council, ordered two helicopters be sent to Port Said to evacuate Ahly team members and injured fans.

"These kind of events can happen anywhere in the world but we will not let those behind this get away," Tantawi said, speaking to the sports television channel owned by Al Ahly. He said victims would receive compensation after their cases were examined

Witnesses said trouble broke out when Al-Ahly fans unfurled banners insulting Port Said and an Ahly supporter descended onto the field carrying an iron bar. Thousands of Al-Masry fans reacted by pouring onto the field and attacking Ahly players. They then turned to the stands to attack Al-Ahli supporters.

Most of the deaths were among people who were trampled in the crush of the panicking crowd or who fell from the stands, witnesses said.

Live television coverage showed fans running onto the field and chasing Al-Ahli players, kicking and punching them as they fled.

The violence raised fresh concerns about the ability of the state police to manage crowds. Most of the hundreds of black-uniformed police with helmets and shields stood in lines and did nothing as soccer fans chased players and rival fans, some wielding sharp objects and others hurling sticks and rocks.

Al-Ahly player Mohamed Abo Treika likened the violence as war.

"This is not football. This is a war, and people are dying in front of us. There is no movement and no security and no ambulances," he told the Ahly television channel. "I call for the premier league to be canceled. This is horrible situation and today can never be forgotten."

"One of the fans died in the dressing room,” Ahmed Nagi, an Ahly goalkeeping coach, said on Egyptian state television. “And there are thousands of wounded lying in the hallways.”

Ahly’s panicked players flooded the club’s in-house television channel with phone calls to speak about the post-match horror, Egyptian news site Ahram Online reported.

“The security forces left us, they did not protect us. One fan has just died in the dressing room in front of me,” veteran playmaker Mohamed Abou-Treika screamed, according to Ahram Online.

“People have died, we are seeing corpses now. There are no security forces or army personnel to protect us,” midfielder Mohamed Barakat added, according to the news site.

Soon after the violence, another scheduled soccer game in Cairo between the Al-Ismailiya and Zamalek teams was called off in mourning for the violence in Port Said. Angry fans set fire to the bleachers. No injuries were reported and employees said firefighters extinguished the blaze before it caused much damage.

Al-Ahly fans, known as the Ultra Ahlys, gathered in protest outside the clubs office in Cairo.

Deep divisions
Politics cuts deep across soccer teams in Egypt and their fans. Al-Ahly's fans have been at the forefront of the revolution that overthrew longtime leader Hosni Mubarak a year ago, leading chants and protests against the military. Their anti-police songs, peppered with curses, have become viral and an expression of the hatred many Egyptians feel toward security forces that were accused of much of the abuse that was widespread under Mubarak's regime.

Albadry Farghali, a member of parliament for Port Said, accused officials and security forces of allowing the disaster, saying they still had ties to the government of Mubarak.

"The security forces did this or allowed it to happen. The men of Mubarak are still ruling. The head of the regime has fallen, but all his men are still in their positions," he screamed in a telephone call to live television.

"Where is the security? Where is the government?"

Egypt's general prosecutor has ordered an immediate investigation into the Port Said violence, NBC News reported.

The parliament said it will hold an emergency session Thursday to discuss the riot.

The governor of Port Said, Ahmed Abdullah, submitted his resignation after the violence, NBC News reported. Port Said's director of security, Gen. Essam Samak, was suspended pending investigation by the Ministry of Interior.

Egypt's Football Association Executive Committee was holding an emergency session to discuss whether to suspend the remainder of the season.

It was the deadliest incident of soccer violence since Oct. 16, 1996, when at least 78 people died and 180 others were injured in a stampede at a stadium in Guatemala City before a World Cup qualifying match between Guatemala and Costa Rica.

The worst soccer disaster on record occurred on May 24, 1964, in Lima, Peru, when 318 fans were killed and more than 500 injured during riot and panic following an unpopular ruling by a referee in a Peru vs. Argentina match. As many as 340 were reported killed at a 1982 European Cup match between Soviet club Spartak Moscow and Haarlem of the Netherlands, but that toll was disputed by Moscow officials, who said only 61 died, according to The Assocated Press.

NBC News' Ayman Mohyeldin, msnbc.com staff, The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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