CAIRO -- Egyptian vigilantes beat two men accused of stealing a motorized rickshaw on Sunday and then hung them by their feet while some in a watching crowd chanted "kill them!" Both men died, security officials said.
The killings come a week after the attorney general's office encouraged civilians to arrest lawbreakers and hand them over to police. They are emblematic of the chaos sweeping Egypt and a security breakdown of frightening proportions.
It was one of the most extreme cases of vigilantism in two years of sharply deteriorating security following the 2011 uprising. Gruesome photos circulated quickly on Facebook and other social media outlets, showing images taken by people in the crowd of thousands who watched and recorded the lynchings on cell phone cameras.
The killings were in the town of Samanod, about 55 miles north of Cairo in the Nile Delta province of Gharbiya.
Mamdouh al-Muneer, spokesman for the Muslim Brotherhood group in the Gharbiya governorate, told The Associated Press that the lynchings followed a spate of rapes in the area. He said there have been a number of incidents in the past several months of girls being abducted while leaving school.
"Unfortunately, the police are completely out of the picture in Gharbiya. They are not comfortable with their position, with the president or with their role after the uprising," he said.
The Brotherhood is the country's dominant political group.
Egypt is currently mired in another wave of protests, clashes and unrest that have plagued the country since the ouster of authoritarian leader Hosni Mubarak in the pro-democracy uprising two years ago.
This wave of unrest has also engulfed the nation's police force. Thousands of officers and low-ranking policemen have broken ranks, staging protests and waging strikes against what they say is the politicization of the force by President Mohammed Morsi, who came from the Muslim Brotherhood, and his interior minister.
The state-run newspaper Ahram reported on its website that the events in Samanod began when the two men were dragged in the street after being caught "red-handed" trying to steal a motorized rickshaw. Witnesses said they were also accused of kidnapping a girl inside the rickshaw, but that she escaped unharmed.
A witness said they were beaten but still alive before they were strung up from the rafters of an open-air bus station. Both were stripped down to their underwear.
Photographs from the scene show one of the bodies hanging with deep, bloody lacerations covering his back. From the front, one man's face is completely covered in blood. Other shots showed both hanging by their feet, bruised, cut and bleeding.
Afterward, residents took their bodies and dumped them on the doorstep of a nearby police station, according to witnesses.
Security officials said some in the crowd tried to help free the two men but were pushed back by others.
The bodies were later taken to the morgue for identification, according to security officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.
Residents also threatened to lynch another two men accused of involvement in attacks on girls.
"The lack of security has created a sense of terror here," one witness said, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal. "The entire area is shut down because of protests against the fuel shortages."
Citizens have grown bolder in taking matters into their own hands following the 2011 uprising. The country's once powerful and feared police force was left weakened after the revolt.