Last updated: March 17. 2013 11:42PM - 912 Views

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CAIRO — Egyptian vigilantes beat two men accused of stealing a motorized rickshaw, stripped them half-naked and hung them by their feet in a crowded bus station in the Nile Delta on Sunday, according to security officials. Both men died.

A witness said some in the crowd of about 3,000 people who watched the lynchings egged them on with chants of “kill them!”

The lynchings came a week after the attorney general’s office encouraged civilians to arrest lawbreakers and hand them over to police.

It was one of the most extreme cases of vigilantism in two years of sharp deterioration in security following Egypt’s 2011 uprising. The worsening security coupled with a police strike prompted the attorney general’s call for citizen arrests last week.

The scene was emblematic of the chaos that is sweeping the country, mired in protests over a range of social, economic and political problems and with security breaking down to frightening proportions.

The state-run newspaper Ahram reported on its website that the two men were dragged in the street after being caught “red-handed” trying to steal a rickshaw. It said they were beaten but alive before they were hung.

Witnesses claimed the men had kidnapped a girl inside the rickshaw, but that she escaped unharmed.

A photographer who witnessed the scene told The Associated Press that some in the crowd of around 3,000 threatened to kill him if he took pictures of the lynching.

He said that women and children in the crowd watched the men being hung by their feet, and that some even chanted in support of the lynching.

Residents also threatened to lynch another two men accused of being involved in the rickshaw theft.

Photographs from the scene show the two men hanging upside down from a rafter in their underwear at an open-air bus station in the town of Samanod, about 55 miles (90 kilometers) north of Cairo. They appear badly beaten. Some initial reports said they were hung from a tree but photos from the scene showed it was a rafter.

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