Christians in central Egypt gathered for protests and prayers Monday after officials said a Muslim mob attacked priests with knives and batons over a personal feud, leaving one person dead in the chaos.
The fighting may have stemmed from an argument over whether Christian or Muslim children had priority to pass through a street, the English-language site Ahram Online reported. The attack came months after an armed Muslim mob stripped an elderly Christian woman and paraded her naked on the streets while looting and torching seven Christian homes in the same area, security officials said.
Sunday's attack killed 27-year-old Fam Khalaf in the village of Tahna al-Gabal. Investigators did not disclose that victim's possible relationship to either of the Coptic Christian priests, who were with their families at the time.
Three people, including the father of one of the priests, were wounded, investigators said. Police arrested four people after the attack.
Christians make up 10 percent of Egypt's mostly Muslim population. Sectarian violence occasionally erupts, mainly in rural communities in the south. Islamic extremists have also targeted Christians.
According to the local Orthodox Coptic church and security officials, the May assault in the Minya province village of Karma began after rumors spread that the elderly woman's son had an affair with a Muslim woman — a taboo in conservative Egypt.
Police arrested at least six men suspected of taking part in the violence, security officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.
President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi called for the culprits to be held accountable and gave the military a month to restore property damaged during the violence, at no cost to the owners.
The president said Egypt appreciated the role of "glorious Egyptian women" and that "the rights and the protection of their dignity are a humanitarian and patriotic commitment before being a legal and constitutional one."
Anba Makarios, Minya's top Christian cleric, told a talk show host on the private Dream TV network that the 70-year-old woman was dragged out of her home by the mob who beat her and insulted her before they stripped her off her clothes and forced her to walk through the streets as they chanted Allahu Akbar, or "God is great."
The woman reported the incident to the police five days later, said Makarios, adding that she had initially found it too difficult to "swallow the humiliation" she suffered and go to the police.
Attiyah Ayad, a 58-year-old farmer from a nearby village who witnessed the attack, described how the mob chanted "we must drive the infidels out" as they looted and burned the Christian homes, one of which belonged to his relatives. He said they were armed with firearms, knifes and sticks.
"They emptied magazine after magazine, firing in the air to terrorize us," said Ayad, who suffered a head injury from being hit by a rifle butt and his son Ayad, 30, sustained a deep knife wound in his left shoulder.
The incident unleashed a flurry of condemnations on social media networks where users blamed the influence of ultraconservative Salafi Muslims for the attacks and derided authorities for not reacting quickly.
The hashtag "Egypt stripped naked" on Twitter gained traction shortly after it was introduced.
Extramarital affairs or sex between unmarried couples are taboo among Muslims and Christians in Egypt. They often attract violent reactions in rural areas, where questions of honor can lead to deadly family feuds that endure for years or result in ostracizing the perpetrators.
Christian men cannot marry Muslim women in Egypt unless they convert to Islam first, but Muslim men can marry Christian women. An affair between a Christian man and a Muslim woman takes such sectarian sensitivities to a much higher and dangerous level and often lead to violence if found out.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.