At least 22 people died and many more were injured on Sunday evening during clashes between Zamalek’s hardcore football fans, the Ultras White Knights, and police forces at the Air Force Stadium in New Cairo, according to the group’s official Facebook page.
The page listed the names and ages of the deceased, most of whom were between 17 and 23 years old.
The violence erupted when a number of football fans attempted to enter the military-owned stadium without tickets to the Zamalek vs. ENPPI premier league game, according to the Interior Ministry.
A number of fans then lay in front of the bus transporting Zamalek football players to the stadium, reported the state-owned Al-Ahram newspaper. Police fired tear gas at the crowd, prompting a stampede as the fans attempted to escape. The Ultras White Knights Facebook page said several people died from suffocation.
Mortada Mansour, the head of the Zamalek Club, blamed the Muslim Brotherhood for the deaths and asked the prosecution to pursue the killers, claiming the police did not fire at fans.
“Some hooligans stood in front of the club bus and prevented it from moving forward. The situation inside the stadium was great. But the White Knights members stormed the stadium with the aim of a massacre, and this is what happened. The Ultras have harmed Egypt and vowed to burn the Zamalek Club. They are criminals,” he said in an interview with the privately owned newspaper Al-Masry Al-Youm.
In a telephone conversation with the privately owned channel CBC’s Huna al-Assema, Deputy Minister of Interior Abdel Fattah Osman also denied that police fired at fans, and added that the deaths were mostly caused by a stampede. CBC showed footage of fans panicking as police fired tear gas.
A statement from the Health Ministry confirmed that most of the deaths seemed to have been caused by the stampede, reportedly evidenced by bruising and several broken necks.
The White Knights Facebook page claimed fans were stuck in the metal cage used to exit the stadium as police fired tear gas and birdshot at them.
The bodies of the deceased were transported to the New Cairo Hospital and Al-Ahly Bank Hospital, according to the privately owned Al-Shorouk newspaper.
The match continued despite the chaos unfolding outside the stadium. Zamalek player Omar Gaber withdrew from the game in support of the fans, who reportedly held up banners calling for an end to the match, said Al-Ahram. Zamalek Club management then suspended Gaber for “sympathizing” with the ultras.
General Prosecutor Hesham Barakat summoned several White Knights members for investigations into the incident, and dispatched an investigative team to view footage from the stadium’s security cameras.
While the Zamalek Club took no responsibility for the clashes in an official letter to the football federation, the latter responded by saying that no less than 10,000 tickets were given to the club, while the number of fans inside the stadium didn’t reach that number. The federation accused the club of withholding those tickets, causing clashes to erupt when eager fans couldn’t enter the game.
The Cabinet urged the introduction of new legislation in the wake of the disaster, and sent condolences to the families of the deceased.
Cairo Kora, the privately owned Youm7’s sports website, said the 500 fans who showed up at the gate with no tickets were responsible for the bloody clashes, citing the public relations manager at the Interior Ministry.
Security forces were dispatched around Mansour’s house in anticipation of any further clashes, the news portal added.
In response to the event, fans would no longer be allowed to attend football matches, but cup games would continue as scheduled, Cairo Kora quoted Sarwat Sweilam, the executive director of the football federation, as saying.
Fans were banned from attending games following the 2012 Port Said tragedy that left more than 70 Ahly fans dead. That decision was only recently lifted.
There has been long-standing animosity between police forces and the ultras, but their relationship worsened after the January 25 revolution due to the presence of the hardcore football fans at anti-police protests.
Some accuse the Interior Ministry of failing to adequately respond to the Port Said tragedy, and others go even further, asserting the massacre was a set up to pay the ultras back for their role in the 2011 uprising that ousted former President Hosni Mubarak.
Pressure from ultras groups prompted the Interior Ministry to consider hiring private security at football games, which some human rights workers have asserted is a way for the ministry to evade responsibility for any violence that occurs during matches.
Correction: An earlier version of the story put the death toll at 25. This was corrected on February 9 to reflect a more accurate figure.