CAIRO — Egyptian vigilantes beat two men accused of stealing a motorized rickshaw on Sunday and then hanged them by their feet while some in a watching crowd chanted "kill them!" Both men died, security officials said.
The killings in a town north of Cairo come a week after the attorney general's office encouraged civilians to arrest lawbreakers and hand them over to police. They are emblematic of the chaos sweeping Egypt and a security breakdown of frightening proportions.
It was one of the most extreme cases of vigilantism in two years of sharply deteriorating security following the 2011 uprising. Gruesome photos circulated quickly on Facebook and other social media outlets, showing images taken by people in the crowd of thousands who watched and recorded the lynchings on cellphone cameras.
The killings were in Samanod, 55 miles north of Cairo in the Nile Delta province of Gharbiya.
Mamdouh al-Muneer, spokesman for the Muslim Brotherhood group in the Gharbiya governorate, told the Associated Press that the lynchings followed a spate of rapes in the area. He said there have been a number of incidents in the past several months of girls being abducted while leaving school.
"Unfortunately, the police are completely out of the picture in Gharbiya. They are not comfortable with their position, with the president or with their role after the uprising," he said.
The Brotherhood is the country's dominant political group.
Egypt is mired in a new wave of protests, clashes and unrest that have plagued the country since the ouster of authoritarian leader Hosni Mubarak in the pro-democracy uprising two years ago. This unrest has also engulfed the police force. Thousands of officers and low-ranking policemen have staged protests and waged strikes against what they say is the politicization of the force by President Mohammed Morsi, who came from the Muslim Brotherhood, and his interior minister.
The state-run newspaper Ahram reported on its website that the events in Samanod began when the two men were dragged in the street after being caught "red-handed" trying to steal a motorized rickshaw. Witnesses said they were also accused of kidnapping a girl inside the rickshaw, but that she escaped unharmed.
A photographer who witnessed the scene told the AP that some in the crowd threatened to kill him if he took pictures of the lynchings with his professional camera. He said that women and children were in the crowd of about 3,000 watching the lynchings, some from their balconies overlooking the scene, and some chanted in support "kill them!"