A police officer stands over two men on the floor of a truck in the village of Abu Mussalam after they and others were attacked by a mob. Image Credit: AFP

Cairo: Local villagers, incited by hardline Islamists, dragged four Shiite Egyptians to death south of Cairo, said witnesses and security sources, in the latest incident of sectarian violence in the Islamist-ruled country.

Hundreds of residents in the Sunni-majority village of Zawyat Abu Muslim in Giza encircled the house of Shaikh Hassan Shehata, a local Shiite cleric, who was holding a Shiite ceremony and stormed it, according to security sources.

Shehata was one of the four Shiites dragged on the street to death in the Sunday attack. Eight others were injured, according to medical sources.

“There were 74 people, including 15 men, and the rest were women and children, when the attack happened,” said Amr Abdullah, a Shiite, who survived the assault, said.

“We were surprised to find that around 5,000 people, including a former Salafist member of parliament shouting slogans against us. Some of them were carrying firearms and knives,” Abdullah told the independent newspaper Al Youm Al Saba.

Video footage broadcast on a local TV station showed hundreds of local people, some of them wielding clubs, beating up and kicking the body of a bloodied person lying on the ground.

There are no official figures about the number of Shiites in Egypt, but they are believed to be around 750,000 people out of the country’s 85 million population.

“Shiites participated in the revolution, so how could their houses be attacked and their inhabitants dragged like this?” said Bahaa Anwar, a spokesman for Egypt’s Shiite community. He was referring to a 2011 uprising that deposed president Hosni Mubarak and catapulted Islamists to power.

Anwar blamed President Mohammad Mursi, who belongs to the powerful Sunni Muslim Brotherhood, for inciting hatred against Shiites.

“In a precedent in Egypt, President Mursi lifted no finger as jihadist leaders in his presence at a recent televised rally branded Shiites as infidels, a stance that implies allowing Shiites to be killed,” added Anwar. “It is a message of love from the Muslim Brotherhood to Salafists ahead of June 30,” he said sarcastically.

The secular-leaning opposition plan mass protests against Mursi on June 30, which marks his first anniversary in office. Islamists have vowed rival rallies in a show of solidarity for Mursi.

Salafists rushed to condemn Sunday’s attack and denied any involvement.

“We do not accept that Egyptians’ blood to be shed and dragged on the streets,” Nader Bakar, the spokesman for the influential Salafist Nour Party said. “The party calls for applying the law to anyone involved in this sedition,” he posted on Twitter.

Opposition leader Amr Mousa denounced the attack as a “racist crime”.

“This religious mutilation and killing is the result of an uncontrolled racist religious discourse, which manipulates serious issues to achieve narrow-minded political gains. The regime has failed to ensure Egyptians’ protection,” Moussa, an outspoken critic of Mursi, added in a statement.

Dubbing Mursi as the “unifier of sedition”, Egypt’s top TV satirist Bassem Yousuf commented in a tweet: “When you feel happy over the killing of a Muslim, whose creed is different from yours, then don’t get upset when Sikhs and Zionists kill Muslims.”

Egypt’s Salafists, who regard Shiites as heretics, have staged a series of protests in recent months against allowing Shiite Iranians to visit predominantly Sunni Egypt.

Since Mubarak’s ouster in February 2011, Egypt, the Arab world’s most populous country, has been hit by a wave of sectarian violence, mainly involving the Muslim and Christian communities.

In April, eight Egyptians, including seven Christians, were killed in sectarian clashes in a village north of Cairo.