Clashes have erupted between security forces and Muslim protesters outside Al-Marshada Church in Upper Egypt, as police attempted to arrest individuals storming the building, following the alleged sexual assault of a six-year-old Muslim girl by a Coptic man.
As the violence mounted, an Al-Marshada village Imam Sheikh Ali Hafez called on local youth to form security committees to prevent looters from breaking into shops owned by Coptic Christians.
Al-Marshada church, which is located in Qena governorate, closed its doors Friday morning pre-empting another attack by the angry protesters who marched to the church following Friday's prayers.
The church had already been raided at dawn and a number of shops in the village were torched by Muslims who claimed that a 45-year-old Coptic shop owner molested a six-year-old Muslim girl.
However, a number of the villagers deny the accusations saying that the shop owner has been always friendly to the young girl and treated her as his own child.
Eyewitnesses further added that the false accusations were circulated by girl's neighbours and not by her family.
Bishop Kirollos of Naga Hamadi told Al-Ahram Arabic language news website that the young girl has received a medical check-up and it was proven that she is still a virgin.
Kirollos added that the priests have handed the accused shop owner over to the police for his own protection, as they feared he might be killed.
"The priests have locked the doors of the church in fear of further attempts to raid the building," said Kirollos who added that some protesters have repeatedly tried to break through the security barrier surrounding the church.
Security forces have been blocking the entrances and exits of Al-Marshada village and the church all day in an attempt to avoid further clashes.
Meanwhile, head of security in Qena Salah Mozeed said that investigations are ongoing, adding that the girl's family will be brought in for questioning.