Soccer is the world’s most popular sport, being played by more than 240 million people around the globe. Normally, extreme fandom is associated with cheering, body paint, or perhaps a tattoo. (Ed Sheeran just made headlines for having the mascot of England’s national team emblazoned on his chest.) But a group of militant soccer fans in Egypt may have taken actions that, if confirmed, are far more chilling.
The Black Bloc, a group of politicized, anti-Islamist soccer fans, posted on Facebook that it had carried out an August 20 bombing that involved a car bomb near a Cairo security building and injured at least six police officers.
“We declare full and complete responsibility for the blasts,” the group said, citing mass detention of people who have not been charged with criminal offenses as its motivator.
If the claim is true, it marks the first time a soccer group has committed a political act of violence.
But this isn’t the first event marking the growing influence of political soccer groups. The Black Bloc, though it has largely lain low for the last two years, was involved in political protests leading to the overthrow of former President Mohammed Morsi in 2013. Members of the group, clad in black and wearing masks, protected demonstrators during often violent protests.
Another soccer group, the Ultras, has drawn attention for its pro-Islamist stance and frequent clashes with police. Members are generally branded as thugs by Egyptian security forces, but supporters dispute that characterization, saying they are seeking a way to protest the government of President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi — the general who became Egypt’s first democratically elected president after staging the coup that toppled Morsi.
The current government has been condemned both within Egypt and internationally for a brutal crackdown on dissent, killing more than 1,400 people since mid-2013 and imprisoning tens of thousands more.
Still, it’s unclear whether the Black Bloc actually carried out the recent car bombing. Iyad al Baghdadi, a prominent Egyptian blogger, was among those casting doubt on the assertion. “Claim of responsibility by the #Egypt Black Bloc (anti-Islamist, anarchist?). FB post, so pretty unreliable,” he tweeted.