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7 arrested after Afghan mob kills woman, sets her body on fire

KABUL, Afghanistan -- Afghan police arrested seven suspects after a Kabul mob beat a woman to death, then set her body on fire and threw it into the Kabul River, a police chief said Friday.

The victim was accused of burning a copy of the Quran, the Muslim holy book, inside a shrine, police said.

The city's head of criminal investigation, Mohammad Farid Afzali, said the motive for the attack, which happened the previous night, was unknown.

Police had tried to disperse the crowd by shooting in the air, Afzali said, but had "reacted too late." He identified the woman as 27-year-old Farkhanda, and said she had been receiving psychiatric treatment for an unspecific condition for at least four years.

The incident took place outside Kabul's famous yellow mosque, the Shah-Do Shamshira. Later, cell phone footage surfaced in the Afghan capital of the horrific beating.

According to an eyewitness, protesters were chanting anti-American and anti-democracy slogans while beating the woman.

Violence against women is endemic in Afghanistan but mob assaults on women in Kabul are extremely rare.

President Ashraf Ghani ordered the Interior Ministry and the Ulama Council, which oversees religious issues, as well as the mosque leadership to investigate the attack.

"No one has the right to take it upon themselves to act as judge and court, nor to commit violence against anyone for any reason," Ghani said in a statement.

Ulama Council member Ahmad Ali Jebreili also condemned the attack, saying it was against Islamic law.

Ghani put women's rights and equality at the heart of his presidential campaign last year and has elevated his wife, Rula, to First Lady status. A Christian of Lebanese descent, she has spoken for women's rights in Afghanistan, routinely named by international groups as one of the worst places to be a woman.

Under the Taliban, women were not permitted to work, study or leave their homes without a male relative. The new Afghan constitution guarantees equal rights and protection from violence, but women still struggle to have the laws applied.

Heather Barr, senior women's rights researcher for the New York-based watchdog Human Rights Watch said Thursday's attack highlights "the impunity that pervades every aspect of life in Afghanistan, and in particular the disregard for violence against women."

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