least 74 people were killed and hundreds injured when rival fans clashed Wednesday after a football match in the Egyptian city of Port Said, in what FIFA called a "black day for football."
In one of the deadliest incidents in the sport's history, violence erupted as soon as the referee blew the final whistle in a match which saw home team Al Masri beat Cairo's Al Ahly 3-1.
Al Masri fans flooded the pitch, throwing rocks, bottles and fireworks at Al Ahly supporters, sparking chaos and panic as Al Ahly players and fans ran in all directions trying to flee, witnesses said.
Photos of bleeding players circulated on the Internet.
Gunfire was also reported on the main road leading to Port Said from Cairo, and troops were deployed to prevent further clashes.
"The death toll has now reached 74, including one policeman, in the unrest after the match between Al-Ahly and Al-Masri," the health ministry said in a statement.
"Most of the people were killed in the crush," Interior Minister Mohammed Ibrahim added, while medics said some of the deaths were the result of stab wounds.
State television said around 1,000 people were injured in the violence but the interior ministry put the number at 248.
One player said it was “like a war.”
In Cairo, fans angered that another match between Al Ismaili and Zamalek was halted because of the Port Said violence set fire to the bleachers at the main stadium in the Egyptian capital, authorities said. No injuries were reported, and employees said firefighters extinguished the blaze before it caused much damage.
Most of the hundreds of black-uniformed police with helmets and shields stood in lines and did nothing as soccer fans chased each other, some wielding sharp objects and others hurling sticks and rocks.
Security officials said the ministry has issued directives for its personnel not to “engage”’ with civilians after recent clashes between police and protesters in November left more than 40 people dead.
Egypt is not immune to soccer violence. In April, the ineffectiveness of the police force also was on display when thousands of fans ran onto the field before the end of an African Champions League game between local club Zamalek and Tunisia’s Club Africain. The hundreds of police on duty at Cairo International Stadium could not stop the violence then, either.
The scuffles broke out after fans of Al Masry stormed the field following a rare 3-1 win against Al Ahly. 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. One man told state TV he heard gunshots in the stadium, while a lawmaker from Egypt’s powerful Muslim Brotherhood said the police didn’t prevent fans carrying knives from entering the stadium.
TV footage showed Al Ahly players rushing for their locker room as fistfights broke out among the hundreds of fans swarming on to the field. Some men had to rescue a manager from the losing team as he was being beaten. Black-clothed police officers stood by, appearing overwhelmed.
The Interior Ministry said 74 people died, including one police officer, and 248 were injured, 14 of them police. A local health official initially said 1,000 people were injured and it was not clear how severely. Security forces arrested 47 people for involvement in the violence, the statement said.
State TV appealed to Egyptians to donate blood for the injured in Port Said, and the military sent two aircraft to evacuate serious cases to the capital, Cairo.
Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, the head of the military leadership that assumed power after Mubarak’s ouster, welcomed Al Ahly team players who were flown back to Cairo from Port Said on a military aircraft.
“This will not bring Egypt down,” he told reporters at a military air base east of Cairo. “These incidents happen anywhere in the world. We will not let those behind it go ...This will not affect Egypt and its security.”
Tantawi said Egyptians should not be silent in the face of such acts of violence. “We don’t want people to sit idle after acts like these...Why are the people silent,” Tantawi said. Such statements have been followed by clashes in the past.
The military declared three days of mourning starting Thursday.
Interior Minister Mohammed Ibrahim told state TV that 13,000 Al Masry fans stormed the field, jumping a low fence and attacking about 1,200 Al Ahly fans. He said the security tried to stop them, and blamed the stampede for many of the deaths.
Al Ahly goalkeeper Sharif Ikrami, who was injured in the melee, told the private station ONTV that dead and wounded were being carried into the locker room.
“There were people dying in front of us,’’ he said. “It’s over. We’ve all made a decision that we won’t play soccer any more. How will we play soccer after 70 people died? We can’t think about it.’’
Hesham Sheiha, a health ministry official, said most of the deaths were caused by concussions, deep head wounds and suffocation from the stampede. He said 40 people were in serious conditions and undergoing surgery.
In an interview with the team’s station, Mohammed Abu Trika, a player with Al Ahly, criticised police for standing by and not intervening in the violence.
“People here are dying and no one is doing a thing. It’s like a war,’’ he told the team TV station. “Is life this cheap?’’
Egypt’s state prosecutor ordered an immediate investigation into the violence, and the Egypt Football Association ordered an indefinite suspension of the league games. The parliament said it would convene an emergency session.
The manager of Al Masry, Kamal Abu Ali, announced he also was resigning in protest.
“This is not about soccer. This is bigger than that. This is a plot to topple the state,’’ he told the same station, using an often-cited allegation by the military against protesters.
Bob Bradley, the former US national team coach who was hired in September as coach of Egypt’s national team, was not at the stadium, US Soccer Federation spokesman Michael Kammarman said.
It was the deadliest incident of soccer violence since October 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 Port Said game was a face-off between two teams with a long history of fierce competition, Al Masry, the home team, and Al Ahly, a record 36-time winner of the Egyptian league and a six-time winner of the African Champions League.
Fifa President Sepp Blatter said he was “shocked and saddened’’ by the deaths.
“This is a black day for football. Such a catastrophic situation is unimaginable and should not happen,’’ he said in a statement.
The Confederation of African Football, which organises the African Cup, said a minute’s silence would be held before all quarterfinals this weekend as a mark of respect for the dead.
CAF President Issa Hayatou said, “African football is in a state of mourning.”