A Muslim mob violently attacked Christian homes and property in Egypt while chanting anti-Christian slogans over rumors a house under construction was being turned into a church.
According to International Christian Concern (ICC), a large group of Muslims gathered around the house, owned by Coptic Christian Naim Aziz, in Qarayat al Bayda village near Alexandria after Friday prayers on June 17, chanting: "By no means shall there be a church here".
"A great deal of fanatic Muslims gathered in front of the new house of my cousin, Naim Aziz, during its construction because of a rumor spread in the village that this building would be turned into a church," Christian resident Mousa Zarif told the outlet.
The mob destroyed the home and a number of construction materials, and attacked Naim and his brother, leaving both men injured.
Christian homes and properties in the surrounding area were also reportedly attacked and looted, including a church community center, affecting more than 80 Christian families and leaving hundreds without a place to worship.
"They also intercepted the car of Fr Karas Naser, the priest of the Holy Virgin and the Archangel Michael Coptic Church when he arrived at the village," Zarif said.
"They attacked him but some moderate Muslims intervened, rescuing him from their hands and getting him out of the car."
Aziz told Daily News Egypt that the rumors were false, as he was in fact building the house for his son to live in, not for a church. While police did nothing to stop the destruction, they arrested six coptic Christians, including Aziz and his brother, along with six Muslims.
The six Muslims were freed shortly afterwards, while the Christians were released the next day on bail, having been charged with holding prayers without permission and building without a permit.
In a statement, ICC said the incident shows how Christians in Egypt are treated like second class citizens, and called on Egyptian authorities to ensure that justice is served and that Christian communities protected from further assault in Egypt.
"The police and government authorities in Egypt cannot allow these attacks to go unpunished because the victims come from a minority faith," said William Stark, ICC's regional manager for South Asia. "It is unspeakable that the victims of these attacks were charged with crimes while the perpetrators continue to enjoy total impunity."
According to the CIA World Factbook, Coptic Christians make up just 5% of Egypt's 85 million people. Over the past several years, sectarian violence between the groups has erupted over issues related to church building, religious conversions and interfaith relationships.
In 2013, members of the Muslim Brotherhood tore down a number of churches belonging to Coptic Christians following the ousting of then-President Mohammed Morsi. According to reports, over 60 Christian structures in Egypt were burned and destroyed during that time. Aside from churches, these include convents, schools and bookshops.
In February, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi apologized to the Coptic Christian citizens of Egypt for not being able to restore their churches and vowed to rebuild these structures within the year.
"We have taken too long to fix and renovate [churches] that were burned," he said, Breitbart reported. "This year everything will be fixed. Please accept our apologies for what happened...God willing...by next year there won't be a single church or house that is not restored."