CAIRO // Iran has blamed unidentified foreign enemies for the killing of an Egyptian Shiite Muslim leader amid rising domestic and international criticism of the Egyptian president, Mohammed Morsi, ahead of rallies to call for his resignation.
Eight people were arrested in connection with the murders of Shiite leader Hassan Shehata, two of his brothers and a fourth person in a village in Giza district on Sunday, according to a statement from the Giza Security directorate yesterday.
Villagers surrounded Mr Shehata's home, threatening to set it ablaze if the 70 Shiites inside did not leave the village, the state-run Al Ahram newspaper reported today. When they refused to leave, villagers stormed the house and dragged several people out along the ground before beating the four to death.
Videos on YouTube showed hundreds of residents denouncing their victims as infidels and hauling their blood-soaked bodies while chanting "Allahu Akbar".
Mr Morsi's critics blame him for rising sectarian violence that has also seen Coptic Christian churches and worshippers attacked since the downfall of the former president, Hosni Mubarak, more than two years ago.
Pro-Morsi protesters plan to gather on June 28, two days before opponents mass to demand his removal.
Iran said attempts to deepen rifts between Sunni and Shiite Muslims are a "plot or scheme that is part of the goals of the foreign enemies", said a spokesman for Iran's foreign ministry.
"Enemies of Egypt have been hurt by the revolution and to compensate, they are going to divide and polarise ethnic and religious sects in the country."
Iranian officials have accused western nations, including the United States - which it often refers to as an enemy - of intervening in regional politics with the aim of creating division. The killings have been condemned by Egypt's presidency.
There are about 500,000 Shiites in Egypt and they face increasing sectarian discrimination, said Mohammed Ghoneim, the head of the Coalition of Egyptian Shiites. The country is the most populous in the Arab world with about 84 million people.
The attack came several days after several Salafis, who embrace an ultraconservative interpretation of Islam, insulted Shiites during a rally attended by Mr Morsi, who listened silently while preachers called on him not to allow Shiites to corrupt Egypt, with one, Mohamed Abdel Maqsoud, calling them "unclean".
Ultraconservative Islamists oppose what had been a growing rapprochement between long-time regional rivals Iran and Egypt. The conflict in Syria has tested that warming, with Iran supporting the Syrian president, Bashar Al Assad, and Egypt siding with the largely Sunni opposition.
In April, Egypt suspended charter flights from Iran under pressure from ultraconservative Sunni Muslims who said better relations would allow Iran to spread Shiite beliefs in the country. Flights had begun on March 30 for the first time in 34 years, after both countries signed a tourism agreement.