Soccer Stadium Stampede Kills at Least 25 in Egypt
CAIRO — At least 25 soccer fans died on Sunday in a confrontation with the police at the gates of a stadium, morgue officials said, in the latest flash of violence to confront the military-backed government as it struggles to restore security 18 months after coming to power.
The death toll was expected to rise.
The hard-core fans known as Ultras are proud of their long history of battling the police and they often formed the front lines of the violent protests that followed the Arab Spring revolt here four years ago.
In February 2012, a brawl between rival groups of fans at a match in the city of Port Said killed at least 70 people. The Egyptian authorities became so worried about their inability to control the crowds that for the past three years they have banned fans from soccer games, forcing teams to play in virtually empty stadiums.
The violence on Sunday was set off in part by an attempt to begin loosening those restrictions, allowing the sale of just 5,000 tickets to the public, according to reports in the official state news media.
At the start of the game, around 6 p.m., thousands of ticketless fans of a popular team, Zamalek, reportedly tried to enter the stadium anyway. “The Zamalek fans tried to get in by force, and we had to prevent them from damaging public property,” the Interior Ministry said in a statement reported by the state news media.
Later, the news media reported that police officials attributed the deaths to “a stampede, when more than 6,000 of the Zamalek Club fans tried to break in,” with “many falling over each other.”
“Because of the stampede, some choked and died from asphyxiation, while the rest died from being trampled,” the police said, according to the website of Al Ahram, the flagship state newspaper. “Some of them had been sleeping on the ground in front of the bus that was transporting the players to the club, in an attempt to stop some of the players from entering the stadium,” the statement said.
The fans, known as the Zamalek White Knights, said in multiple separate accounts that the police had set off the stampede by firing tear gas into a crowd of thousands of fans already jammed into a narrow, enclosed space.
One Zamalek fan, Abdel Rahman Ben Kamal, wrote in an account on his Facebook page that as many as 8,000 fans were waiting in a fenced-in corridor about 12 feet wide when without warning security forces began firing tear gas.
“The smell of the gas burned the face,” he wrote. “People fell to the ground and they were stepped on, and I was one of them, but there were people below me.” He wrote that he had recited his last prayers and saw at least 20 people die.
“I swear by God we will get back their rights even if it takes seas of blood,” he added.
A well-known White Knights leader using the online alias Yassir Miracle wrote on the Internet that the police had let about 5,000 fans into an enclosed corridor and then closed the barricades behind them.
“They shot tear gas at us; people died from the gas and the pushing, but they had shut the exit,” he wrote, adding that the riot police “were searching the corpses and the people who had just collapsed and collecting the wallets and money.”
“Ambulances arrived after one hour,” he wrote, “and the police continued to run after us and shoot us with tear gas and bird shot around the stadium in the desert.”
The fleeing fans, he said, were unable to enlist passing drivers to help carry away their dead. “There are five bodies, including one child, and the cars are not stopping so we can move them,” he wrote, posting pictures of a few of the dead or injured.
A fan identifying himself as Nader el-Sayed wrote that police officers at checkpoints were arresting anyone wearing a shirt that said Zamalek or Ultras.
“A 7-year-old boy fell from the tear gas; people stepped over him running away, and the ambulance is saying he is dead,” Mr. Sayed wrote. He posted a picture of a stampede, writing, “Tear gas was fired at us from behind at this moment, and scores of people were falling.”
The deaths Sunday night followed the killing of about 20 civilians two weeks ago in clashes with police officers around the Jan. 25 anniversary of the start of the Arab Spring revolt.
James M. Dorsey, author of a widely followed blog about Middle East soccer, said the riot on Sunday night was a troubling setback for President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, who claimed to restore order after the military takeover he led in 2013.
“It becomes increasingly difficult to argue that you have re-established security and law and order when you can’t afford to open the stadiums,” he said, noting that for any authoritarian government “the soccer stadium is one of the few public spaces they cannot control in absolute terms.”
The game, held at a stadium owned by the military in an outer area of Cairo called the Fifth Settlement, was nonetheless played to completion. Zamalek tied ENPPI, the Engineering for the Petroleum and Process Industries club, with one goal each, the state news media reported.
A version of this article appears in print on February 9, 2015, on page A6 of the New York edition with the headline: Soccer Stadium Stampede Kills at Least 25 in Egypt . Order Reprints| Today's Paper|Subscribe