Some say “hired thugs” wearing green T-shirts posing as Al-Masry fans led the attacks.
Others say, at the very least, police were responsible for gross negligence in the Feb. 1 soccer brawl that killed 74 Al-Ahly fans.
Anger at police was evident in Port Said, home to most of the 73 men accused of involvement in the bloodshed, although the trial was held outside Cairo.
Judge Sobhi Abdel-Maguid did not give his reasoning when he handed down the sentences for 21 defendants. Executions in Egypt are usually carried out by hanging.
Verdicts for the remaining 52 defendants, including nine security officials, are scheduled to be delivered March 9. Some have been charged with murder and others with assisting the attackers. All the defendants — who were not present in the courtroom Saturday for security reasons — can appeal the verdict.
Supporters of those sentenced to death said they were being used as scapegoats. The rioters attacked the city’s prison after the verdict was read live on state television to try and free the defendants. A police lieutenant and police officer were killed in the assault.
Residents also focused their anger against the government, attacking a power station, the governor’s office and local courthouse. They staged a sit-in along the main road leading into the city and occupied a police station.
Security officials said a total of 27 people were killed and some 400 wounded, many by gunfire, throughout the city. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to release the information.
Victims were killed when police fired tear gas, bird shot and other live ammunition at the mob. Two soccer players who died— one from Port Said’s Al-Marikh club and the other a former player of its Al-Masry club — apparently were killed on their way to do training near the prison. One of the players was shot three times, a local health official said.