MALANG, Indonesia — Indonesia’s police chief and nine top officers were suspended Monday and 18 others are being investigated for allegedly using tear gas at a soccer stadium that sparked a stampede that killed at least 125 people, officials said.
Distraught family members struggled to come to terms with the loss of their loved ones, including 17 children, at a match in Malang, East Java, attended only by Orema’s hometown fans. Supporters of away team Persebaya Surabaya have been banned by organizers due to Indonesia’s history of fierce football rivalries.
Saturday night’s disaster was one of the deadliest in sporting history.
On Monday, Orema players and officials laid wreaths in front of the stadium.
“We came here as a team to apologize to the families affected by this tragedy, those who lost loved ones or those who are still receiving treatment in the hospital,” said head coach Javier Rocca.
About a thousand black-shirted soccer fans held a candlelit vigil at a soccer stadium in Jakarta’s satellite city of Bekasi on Monday night to pray for the victims of the disaster.
Witnesses said some of Arema’s 42,000 fans ran onto the pitch in anger on Saturday after the team suffered a 3-2 defeat, their first defeat at home to Persebaya in 23 years. Some threw bottles and other objects at players and football officials. At least five police cars were overturned and set on fire near the stadium.
But most of the deaths occurred when the riot police, trying to stop the violence, used tear gas, including in the stands, which caused a catastrophic stampede of fans, who panicked and chaotically rushed to the exits. Most of the 125 dead were trampled or strangled. Two policemen are among the injured.
At least 17 children were among the dead and seven are being treated in hospitals, the Ministry of Women’s Empowerment and Child Protection said. The police reported that 323 people were injured in the collision, some of them are in serious condition.
National police spokesman Dedi Prosetio said Malanga police chief Ferli Hidayat had been sacked along with nine members of the elite police mobile squad and faced possible dismissal in a police ethics trial.
He said 18 officers responsible for the use of tear gas, ranging from mid-level to high-ranking, are under investigation.
Police are interviewing witnesses and analyzing video from 32 CCTV cameras inside and outside the stadium and from nine cellphones belonging to the victims as part of an investigation that will also identify the vandals, he said.
The parents and other relatives of 22-year-old Faikotul Hikma wept on Monday when an ambulance arrived at their home with her body wrapped in a white cloth and a black blanket. She died while running towards Gate 12 at Kanjuruhan Stadium.
A dozen friends traveled with her to watch the match, but Hikma was one of four who were able to enter the stadium because tickets were sold out, her friend Abdul Muqid said on Monday. He later bought a ticket from a broker after hearing about the chaos at the stadium to look for Hickman.
“I have to find her, save her,” Mukid remembered thinking.
Mukid found Hikma’s body lying outside a building on the stadium grounds with broken ribs and bluish bruises on her face. He learned that the other friend had also died from other friends who called him while he was riding in the ambulance that was taking Hikma’s body to the hospital.
“I can’t put into words how much I am suffering from the loss of my sister,” said Noor Laila, Hikma’s older brother. “She was just a big Arema fan who wanted to watch her favorite team play. She shouldn’t die just for that,” she said, wiping away tears.
President Joko Widodo has ordered the suspension of the top-flight soccer league pending a reassessment of security and increased security. The Indonesian Football Association also banned Arema from hosting football matches until the end of the season.
FC Arema president Gilang Vidya Pramana expressed his sadness and deep apologies to the victims and the Indonesian people and said he was ready to take full responsibility for the tragedy at his team’s stadium.
He said the management, coach and players were shocked and stunned.
“I am ready to help, even if it cannot bring back the lives of the victims,” Pramana told a news conference on Monday at Arema’s headquarters in Malang.
“This incident was beyond prediction, beyond comprehension … in a match where only our fans were watching, not a single rival fan,” he said, sobbing. “How can this match kill more than 100 people?”
He said Arema FC was ready to accept any sanctions from the Indonesian Football Association and the government and “hopefully this will be a very valuable lesson”.
Security Minister Mohammad Mahfoud said he would lead an investigation to examine violations of the law in the crash and make recommendations to the president to improve football security. The investigation should be completed in three weeks.
Mahfoud instructed the national police and military leaders to punish those who committed the crimes and actions that provoked the stampede.
“The government has called on the national police to assess its security procedures,” Mahfoud told a news conference.
The human rights organization “Amnesty International” called on Indonesia to investigate the use of tear gas and ensure the trial of the perpetrators in an open court. Although FIFA does not control domestic games, it has recommended against the use of tear gas in football stadiums.
Despite Indonesia’s lack of international exposure in the sport, hooliganism is rife in the soccer-obsessed country, where fanaticism often turns violent. Data from the Indonesian football organization Save Our Soccer showed that 78 people have died in gaming incidents over the past 28 years.
Saturday’s match was one of the world’s worst crowd tragedies in sports, including a 1996 World Cup qualifier between Guatemala and Costa Rica in Guatemala City that killed more than 80 people and injured more than 100. In April 2001, more than 40 people were killed during a soccer match at Ellis Park in Johannesburg, South Africa. In February 2012, 74 people were killed and more than 500 injured after a match between rivals Al-Masri and Al-Ahly when thousands of Al-Masri fans stormed the pitch and attacked away supporters. As a result, the Egyptian championship was suspended for two years.
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