ZAWIYAT ABU MUSALLEM, Egypt - Egypt's government promised "exemplary punishment" on Monday after the mob killing of four Shi'ite Muslims near Cairo raised fears of wider sectarian bloodshed at a time of grave national crisis.
But Shi'ite minority leaders and the liberal opposition accused the government itself, dominated by the Sunni Islamist Muslim Brotherhood, of whipping up sectarian anger over the war in Syria as a means of appeasing its own hardline Salafist allies.
President Mohamed Morsi, under pressure from the army to end broader factional violence, condemned "this heinous crime" and promised "swift justice". Al-Azhar, Cairo's leading Sunni religious establishment, said the killings were contrary to the teachings of Islam and urged "harshest punishment".
In Sunday's violence in the suburb of Zawiyat Abu Musallem, in sight of the Giza pyramids, a crowd ransacked and torched the house of a family, whose members told Reuters the attack began when a Shi'ite dignitary visited them for a religious festival.
They yelled "Infidels!", said one woman who survived and who complained that police failed to intervene during the frenzied violence in the house and rubbish-strewn alley outside. "The Salafis and the Brotherhood - they're the ones who attacked us," added the woman, clearly in shock, sitting in her wrecked home.