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/ Source: Reuters

A married couple in Afghanistan cut off the ears and nose of a Muslim cleric in retaliation for him allegedly sexually assaulting their 14-year-old daughter, police said.

The father invited the mullah to his house for dinner before carrying out the disfiguring attack, police said Tuesday.

"I cut off his ears and nose," said father Abdul Qahar, dressed in a traditional shalwar kameez and a turban. He was speaking from the police chief's office in the northern Baghlan province.

"I don't know if a cat ate his ears, but his nose went down the drain," he told Reuters, speaking in the Dari language.

Police arrested the girl's parents Tuesday. Ahmad Jawid Basharat, a police spokesman in Baghlan, said Qahar had tied the cleric's hands and feet and cut off his nose and an ear as an act of revenge.

The 32-year-old cleric denied he had assaulted the girl. Police said they have opened a case against him.

Religious, or shariah, law often holds sway over constitutional law in some parts of rural Afghanistan.

"If there was a functioning rule of law, then he would be punished even more severely," said the girl's mother, Sultana, wearing a traditional all-covering burqa.

Right activists say there has been a sharp rise in violent attacks against women in the deeply conservative Muslim country, where women have fought hard to gain rights after the collapse of Taliban government in 2001.

There is growing fear among many people in Afghanistan that the withdrawal of NATO-led forces and efforts to reach a political agreement with the Taliban to end the 12-year-old war could undermine hard-won freedoms for women.

- Reuters