CAIRO – Clashes between Egyptian Muslims and Christians erupted early Saturday in a town near Cairo, leaving at least five people dead, security officials said.
Investigators said they are waiting for autopsy reports to confirm how the men -- four Christians and a Muslim -- were killed in a suburb of the city of Shubra el-Kheima, north of Cairo.
Police said the clashes started when young Muslims drew inflammatory symbols on an Islamic institute and a local mosque. Christian onlookers and Muslims nearby began quarrelling and soon residents wielding guns began firing on one another.
Residents interviewed by satellite broadcaster Al Jazeera Mubashir had different accounts of what sparked the violence, and said police arrived hours after the fight ended.
The clashes also resulted in a fire near a church in the area where the fighting took place.
Egypt's Coptic Christians, who make up about 10 percent of the country's 85 million people, have long complained of discrimination by the state. They are the largest Christian community in the Middle East.
President Mohammed Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood party condemned the sectarian strife.
"Security authorities should take all measures to resolve the problem and religious figures should intervene to end the tension," Freedom and Justice Party Chairman Saad el-Katatni said in a statement emailed to reporters.
Church officials in the neighborhood where the fighting took place, Khosoos, could not be immediately reached for comment.
Egyptian Christians fear that lack of security and political tension, along with hate speech by some ultraconservative Islamic clerics might give extremists a freer hand to attack churches and Coptic property, especially in the country's poorer areas.