Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi is calling for an investigation into the fatal confrontation between soccer fans and police officers that left more than 20 people dead at the gates of a Cairo-area soccer stadium on Sunday night. Here’s the New York Times with the play-by-play of the confrontation, which occurred as fans were trying to enter the Air Defense stadium, which is located in a military facility in an eastern Cairo suburb:
The violence began on Sunday night, when thousands of fans of the Cairo soccer team Zamalek were packed into a narrow, caged-in corridor as they tried to enter the stadium. The police blamed a stampede for the deaths, but several fans said that the police had set it off by firing tear gas into the throng and birdshot at the fleeing crowds.
Photographs and videos that were circulated on the Internet appeared to confirm the use of gas and birdshot by a squadron of heavily armed riot police officers, as well as the burning of at least two cars near the stadium by fans. One photograph appeared to show the body of a child who had been trampled to death at the stadium gates while still clutching a bag of snacks.
Authorities said most if not all of the victims died of suffocation from tear gas and the stampede. Following the incident, the government ordered the arrests of leaders of the Zamalek fan group known as the Ultras White Knights, charging them with responsibility of the deaths, according to local media reports. On Monday, however, Sisi appeared to stay on the fence in regards to who was to blame. In a statement he expressed “great sadness” and “deep sorrow” over what happened, and called for “the investigating authorities to uncover the root causes of the incident and determine those responsible.”
The incident is the latest black eye for Egypt’s security forces, and comes less than a month after a woman was shot and killed at a peaceful protest marking the anniversary of the 2011 uprising. It’s also the worst episode of soccer-related violence in the country since two rival groups of fans brawled after a match three years ago, leaving more than 70 dead.
Despite Sunday’s double-digit death toll, the game between Zemalek and ENPPI went on as scheduled. According to the Associated Press, local media reports suggest that one Zemalek player who refused to take the field following the incident was threatened with suspension. Fans at the match, meanwhile, appeared well aware of what had occurred outside, chanting, “We either win retribution for them or die like they did.”
The government has since ordered the league to suspend play indefinitely, the first time the league has gone dark since the 2012 brawl. Since play resumed following that suspension, fans had been largely barred from attending matches, the AP reports. They were only allowed back into the stadiums recently, although in limited numbers.