REPORTING FROM CAIRO -- The death toll rose to at least 73 people late Wednesday after hooligans from the winning team stormed onto the field after an Egyptian soccer match between two longtime rivals and attacked opposing players and fans.
Violence broke out in the coastal town of Port Said after that city’s team won a rare victory over the visiting Ahly, a powerhouse club from Cairo. Port Said supporters rushed the field immediately after the game as chaos spread and players and fans from Ahly ran for cover beneath the stadium and into locker rooms.
Egyptian TV quoted medical authorities as saying at least 73 people had been killed. Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, the nation’s military ruler, dispatched military planes to Port Said to pick up Ahly players and fans and return them to Cairo.
Security officials feared the riot would lead to retaliation by Ahly hooligans, known as Ultras. The group was involved in the attack on the Israeli Embassy in Cairo in September, and its members have been on the front lines in the recent deadly clashes between antigovernment protesters and riot police and soldiers.
The soccer riot was yet was another sign of how fragile and combustible Egypt is as it unsteadily attempts to move toward democracy in the year since the overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak. There have been sharp animosities between the two teams -- Port Said fans attacked an Ahly bus last year -- but nothing indicating the level of hostilities that ignited Wednesday night.
“There are 11 deaths at my hospital. Two other hospitals include 25 deaths. Three fans have also died in the stadium," Hassan Esnawy, the manager of Port Said's El Amiry hospital, said in a television interview. “Some died of stampede and others died of suffocation.”
Indications of the mayhem to come occurred when Port Said fans threw fireworks at Ahly players before the match. Hooligans tried unsuccessfully to rush the field during halftime but there were no confrontations during 90-minutes of play.
Moments after the game, which Port Said won 3 to 1, hooligans sprinted across the field, attacking Ahly players and fans.
Two Ahly players were injured and the team quickly blamed police for not preventing the onslaught.
“The security forces left us, they did not protect us. One fan has just died in the dressing room in front of me,” veteran Ahly player Mohamed Abou-Treika yelled in a phone while speaking to a TV channel.
Another Ahly player, Mohamed Baraket, said: “People have died, we are seeing corpses now. There are no security forces or army personnel to protect us.”
Ahly’s TV channel reported that Port Said fans blocked ambulances from reaching the field for up to 90 minutes. Those reports could not be independently confirmed.
--Jeffrey Fleishman and Amro Hassan
Photo: Egyptian fans run on the pitch after a soccer match at a stadium in Port Said, Egypt. A deadly riot ensued. Credit: European Pressphoto Agency