Egypt football riot sentences spark deadly unrest

Updated 15 March 2013
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Egypt football riot sentences spark deadly unrest

CAIRO: A court verdict over deadly football violence sparked fresh unrest in Egypt on Saturday, with two people killed and buildings torched in Cairo, as Islamist President Muhammad Mursi faces growing civil unrest.
A Port Said court, sitting in Cairo for security reasons, confirmed death sentences for 21 defendants and handed down life sentences to five people, with 19 receiving lesser jail terms and another 28 exonerated.
Fans of Al-Ahly football club, whose members were killed in a February 2012 stadium riot in Port Said in which 74 people died, had warned police they would retaliate if the defendants were exonerated.
Two protesters were killed in clashes with police in Cairo — one from bird shot and one from suffocation.
An AFP correspondent saw one protester brought to a mosque in central Tahrir Square with gunshot wounds, and medics confirmed he was dead.
Earlier, emergency services chief Mohammed Sultan said a protester suffocated after inhaling tear gas, and “died in the ambulance on his way to hospital.”
Police fired tear gas and bird shot as the clashes intensified on a large avenue on the banks of the Nile, where police vehicles blocked the road.
Angry crowds hurled rocks at the police and threw a petrol bomb at a luxury five star hotel in the area that houses several embassies.
Sporadic clashes have been going on for weeks on the Nile corniche, close to Tahrir Square. The numbers swelled on Saturday when the regular protesters were joined by activists and football fans following the verdict.
Earlier, huge flames rose above the main building of the Egyptian Football Association and a police officers’ club in an affluent neighborhood on an island in the Nile.
Residents of Gezira used garden hoses to try to extinguish the flames as a police helicopter circled overhead. Windows were smashed at other buildings in the complex.

Ticking time bomb
The football trial has been a ticking time bomb for Mursi, who is facing a revolt in Port Said, growing nationwide unrest and an unprecedented police strike.
The court handed 15-year sentences to the former head of police security, General Essam Samak, and to Brig. Gen. Mohammed Saad, who was responsible for the stadium gates, which were locked, when the riot broke out.
Seven remaining police defendants were acquitted.
During sentencing, the judge read out a string of names without explaining who they were, leading to much confusion.
“First we were happy when we heard the 21 death sentences. We were cheering and didn’t hear the rest of the verdict,” one football supporter in Cairo told AFP. “Then we were very angry.”
Any verdict in the highly charged trial was likely to trigger angry reactions.
Senior interior ministry officials said police had been put on high alert in the Sinai peninsula — where the government has long struggled with militancy and smuggling — in case of attacks against police stations.
In Port Said, hundreds of people prevented ferries from shuttling residents between the banks of the Suez Canal, in protest at the confirmation of the 21 death sentences against supporters of the local team.
They set fire to tires and put up a huge banner at the entrance of the port demanding “independence for Port Said.”
The Suez Canal Authority, which runs the vital waterway for global commerce, said the canal had been unaffected by the unrest.
Earlier, several hundred grim protesters had marched on the Suez Canal and a port in the city as military helicopters flew overhead and troops stationed tanks outside the port.
A lawyer for one defendants, who received a life sentence, said he would appeal.
“It’s a political ruling. This judge tried to achieve a balance, but everyone is displeased with the rulings,” Ashraf Al-Ezzabi told AFP by phone from outside the heavily secured court room.
In February 2012, clashes in the canal city of Port Said between fans of home side Al-Masry and Cairo’s Al-Ahly left 74 people dead and sparked days of violent protests in Cairo, in which another 16 people were killed.
Tension has been running particularly high in an already divided Egypt since January 26, when the court first issued the death sentences in the country’s deadliest-ever football disaster.
Dissent has even reached police ranks, with police officers refusing orders to deploy, saying they are ill-equipped to deal with violent protesters and were made to suffer the consequences of government mistakes.
In Port Said, the government has almost completely lost its grip on security.
Police on Friday withdrew from their headquarters and handed responsibility for securing it to the military, deployed in the city since late January.
Threats of further unrest have cast uncertainty over government plans to introduce economic reforms that are key to obtaining an crucial $4.8-billion dollar International Monetary Fund loan.


US weighing options on American Daesh sympathizer in Syria

A member of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) stands guard on top of a building on February 17, 2019, in the frontline Syrian village of Baghuz. (AFP)
Updated 20 min 47 sec ago
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US weighing options on American Daesh sympathizer in Syria

  • Neither option would likely pass muster in the cases of US citizens, who enjoy strong legal protections under the Constitution

WASHINGTON: The United States said Tuesday it wanted to ensure foreign terrorists remain off the battlefield as it weighed options on an American detained in Syria who says she wants to return home.
The United States has urged European powers to take back hundreds of their citizens who fought with the Daesh group in Syria, but acknowledged the situation was complex in the rare case of an American terrorist.
Hoda Muthana, a 24-year-old from Alabama who became a prominent online agitator for the extremists, said in an interview published Sunday with The Guardian that she had been brainwashed online and “deeply regrets” joining the movement.
While declining to discuss Muthana’s case specifically, State Department deputy spokesman Robert Palladino said that the status of US citizens detained in Syria “is by definition extremely complicated.”
“We’re looking into these cases to better understand the details,” he told reporters.
Palladino said that the United States generally did not see a different solution between what to do with US fighters and with foreigners, saying the fighters pose “a global threat.”
“Repatriating these foreign terrorist fighters to their countries of origin, ensuring that they are prosecuted and detained — that’s the best solution, preventing them from returning to the battlefield,” he said.
The situation of foreign terrorists detained by US-allied Kurdish forces has taken a new urgency as President Donald Trump plans to withdraw US troops from Syria.
The Syrian Democratic Forces say they may have to refocus on fighting Turkey, which has vowed to crush Kurdish fighters it links to separatists at home.
Trump has contemplated reopening the US military base at Guantanamo Bay to take in new foreign inmates, while Britain on Tuesday revoked the citizenship of a female terrorsist who wanted to return home with her newborn baby.
Neither option would likely pass muster in the cases of US citizens, who enjoy strong legal protections under the Constitution.
Muthana, who was married three times to terrorists and has a son with one of her husbands, fled her family in 2014 to join the Daesh group in Syria, where she took to Twitter to urge attacks on fellow Americans.
In the interview with The Guardian, Muthana said that she was “really young and ignorant” when she joined Daesh and has since renounced radicalism.
“I believe that America gives second chances. I want to return and I’ll never come back to the Middle East,” she told the newspaper.
Hassan Shilby, a lawyer for Muthana, told ABC television’s “Good Morning America” that the young woman had been “brainwashed and manipulated” and is “absolutely disgusted” by the person she became.