Egypt mob attack kills four Shia Muslims near Cairo

image captionThe mob reportedly tried to set fire to the house where the Shia worshippers had gathered

Four Egyptian Shia Muslims have been killed in a mob attack in a village near the capital Cairo, officials say.

The attack on Sunday targeted a house where a group of Shia worshippers had gathered for a religious ceremony.

The attackers accused those gathered of trying to spread Shia beliefs, reports say.

Shia Muslims are a small minority in predominantly Sunni Muslim Egypt, but anti-Shia rhetoric has increased recently due to the conflict in Syria.

Eyewitnesses told the BBC that an anti-Shia crowd numbering at least several hundred formed around the house.

The mob then reportedly demanded the Shia leave the house before storming it and trying to set it alight.

Images from the incident show the victims being dragged through the streets.

One of those killed was a local Shia leader, Hassan Shehata, officials say.

Eight others were injured in the attack, according to security sources.

A health ministry spokesman told Egypt's Mena news agency that the bodies "showed numerous puncture wounds and severe bruising".

One eyewitness, Hazem Barakat, told the Ahram newspaper that police stood by and did nothing to stop the attack.

As in other countries in the region, anti-Shia rhetoric has been on the rise in Egypt due to the civil war in Syria, which has often been described in sectarian terms.

Earlier this month, an influential Egyptian cleric called on Sunni Muslims to go to Syria to join the battle against President Bashar al-Assad.