Morocco’s Qatar World Cup victory over Belgium sparks Brussels riots

Clashes broke out in Belgian capital and in cities across the Netherlands after the match in Doha, the first meeting between the countries since 2008

Street riots in Brussels following Morocco's soccer victory at the Qatar World Cup
Manuel V. Gómez

No sooner had the Qatar World Cup game between Belgium and Morocco finished than disturbances in downtown Brussels and in the Dutch cities of Amsterdam and Rotterdam began. Less than an hour had passed since Morocco triumphed 2-0 in the Al Thumama Stadium in Doha – a result that left Belgium in third place in Group F and the Atlas Lions second – when groups of young men waving Morocco flags overturned at least one car, damaged others, set fires in the street and burned rental scooters. When the Belgian police responded at the scene, they did so with water cannon and charges by riot officers. Two hours later, authorities in Brussels said there had been a dozen arrests, according to local police reports.

In Rotterdam, a group of around 500 young Morocco fans threw bottles and fireworks at police, reports Isabel Ferrer. In Amsterdam, several buses and trams were forced to alter their routes in the east of the city after fires were lit in the road. Fireworks were also thrown and at least one car was set ablaze. In The Hague, other Morocco fans opened the doors of cars driving in the streets. When the situation started to escalate, the police intervened to separate the people, according to spokespeople. In the Netherlands there is a Moroccan community numbering around 420,000, of which 60% were born in the country.

Morocco supporters next to a burnt-out car in the Belgian capital.
Morocco supporters next to a burnt-out car in the Belgian capital.Geert Vanden Wijngaert (AP)

In the Belgian capital, store owners had been warning of what was to come in the local press the day before the game. “Whatever the result, we’re expecting riots.” Before the match in Doha had ended, riot police had been deployed in downtown neighborhoods backed by a surveillance helicopter and water cannon-carrying armored vehicles. However, the deterrent did not prevent disturbances as soon as the game had ended. The altercations did not appear to be sparked by fights between rival sets of supporters, but confrontations with the police and vandalism.

After the game, the sound of firecrackers filled the air as Morocco supporters waving flags took to the streets. Shortly afterward, disturbances were reported in the Boulevard Maurice Lemonnier, a downtown thoroughfare that connects the Brussels-South railway station with the Grand-Place. In footage uploaded to social media a rental car is upturned and scooters set ablaze. As the rioting moved closer to the Grand-Place and the Christmas market, police set road blocks to prevent them spilling into the tourist zones.

“I condemn this afternoon’s incidents in the strongest terms. The police have already intervened firmly. I therefore advise supporters not to come to the city center. The police are using all means at their disposal to maintain public order,” the mayor of Brussels, Philippe Close, wrote on Twitter. The disturbances led to a huge traffic jam in the downtown areas of Brussels and in adjacent districts.

In Molenbeek, a neighborhood in the Belgian capital with a large Moroccan community, there was a threat of violence when a group of young soccer fans broke a window at the local police station, but the arrival of the so-called “peacekeepers” – a Neighborhood Watch-style association of people of Moroccan nationality or descent - defused the situation.

It was a special day for Molenbeek, an area of just under 100,000 inhabitants, almost half of whom were born outside Belgium. Since 2015, the neighborhood has suffered from stigmatization after the Paris and Brussels terrorist attacks, carried out by people from the area. A festive atmosphere reigned for most of the day, only disappearing as evening fell. For many young people it was the first chance to see the two countries play each other: the last meeting between the sides was a friendly game in 2008 that Morocco won 4-1.

Morocco fans confront the police in Brussels.
Morocco fans confront the police in Brussels.STEPHANIE LECOCQ (EFE)

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