By Leon Watson
At least 74 football fans were killed and hundreds injured after a pitch invasion in Egypt last night.
Trouble flared after a match in the city of Port Said when armed fans surged forward seconds after the final whistle.
The home team, Al-Masry, secured a rare 3-1 victory against the country’s top team, Al-Ahly.
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The Egyptian army was being airlifted in by helicopter to rescue stranded players who became trapped in the changing rooms
Police struggled to keep order as chaos erupted in the stadium
According to officials, Al-Masry fans carrying knives swarmed on to the pitch, throwing stones, fireworks and bottles at rival fans, players and security officers.
Most of the victims are believed to have died from suffocation or head injuries, with some cornered in the stadium as parts of it were set on fire. The two teams have a long history of bad blood.
The Egypt Football Association ordered an indefinite suspension of its premier league and Egypt’s state prosecutor has ordered an immediate investigation.
One witness to the Egypt riot said people threw stones, sticks and bottles at their rivals and injured some players. The witness was speaking on condition of anonymity because he feared retribution.
He said the atmosphere was already tense in the field before the game as one Al-Ahly fan raised a banner insulting supporters of the home team.
Security forces in Egypt had been keeping a lower profile since last year’s popular protests that ousted President Hosni Mubarak from power, allowing fans to smuggle knives into the stadium.
The riot also threatened to destabilise the country once more.
The Muslim Brotherhood, the most powerful party in Egypt’s parliament, blamed supporters of the deposed Mubarak regime for promoting violence at the match as a way to bring back chaos to Egypt.
Interior Minister Mohammed Ibrahim told state television that 13,000 Al-Masry fans stormed the field, jumping a low fence and attacking 1,200 Al-Ahly fans.
Al-Ahly goalkeeper Sharif Ikrami, who was injured in the clashes, said dead bodies were carried into the dressing 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. We can’t think about it.’
Al-Masry manager Kamal Abu Ali announced he was resigning. ‘This is not about soccer. This is bigger than that. This is a plot to topple the state,’ he said.
The riot was the deadliest incident in football since October 1996, when 78 fans 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 match with the most fatalities was in May 1964 when a game between Peru and Argentina in Lima descended into violence and 318 fans were killed.
Britain’s worst football disaster is the Hillsborough tragedy in Sheffield in April 1989, in which 96 supporters died.
As the trouble unfolded in Port Said, a stadium in Cairo was also set on fire by fans after a referee cancelled a match.