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CAIRO — An armed Muslim mob stripped an elderly Christian woman and paraded her naked on the streets amid rumors she had an affair, the local church, witnesses and security officials said.
Seven Christian homes were also looted and torched in last week's attack in a province south of the Egyptian capital.
According to the local Orthodox Coptic church and security officials, the assault in the Minya province village of Karma on Friday began after rumors spread that the 70-year-old woman's son had an affair with a Muslim woman — a taboo in conservative Egypt.
"They burned the house and went in and dragged me out, threw me in front of the house and ripped my clothes," the woman, who requested anonymity, told Reuters. "I was just as my mother gave birth to me and was screaming and crying."
Police have arrested six men suspected of taking part in the violence and are looking for 12 more, the security officials told The Associated Press, 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.
In a statement issued Thursday by his office, el-Sissi said Egypt appreciates 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.
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.
Christians, who make up about 10 percent of Egypt's population of more than 90 million people, have long complained of discrimination in the mostly Muslim nation.