(BBC) Two European men have been burnt to death in Madagascar by protesters who suspected they were trafficking human organs after a child went missing.
A local man had been arrested in connection with the disappearance on Wednesday on Nosy Be, a tourist island resort in Madagascar’s north-west.
A crowd then rioted outside the police station believing him to have been paid to remove the child’s organs.
The mob proceeded on “a manhunt” for the foreigners, police said.
“It resulted in the death of two foreigners,” the deputy commander of the paramilitary police, Gen Guy Randriamaro Bobin, told the AFP news agency.
Officials initially said they were French nationals, but residents on Nosy Be say one of the men may have been Italian.
“Two foreigners died, we have confirmed that one of them was French,” AFP quotes France’s foreign affairs spokesman Philippe Lalliot as saying.
Gen Randriamaro Bobin said an eight-year-old boy’s lifeless body was found on Thursday morning, without genitals and without a tongue, the agency reports.
Local media reported that the protesters had found human organs in a fridge in the building where the Europeans were staying.
The BBC’s Tim Healy in the capital, Antananarivo, says Nosy Be is the jewel in the crown of Madagascar’s tourist industry and has been used to encourage tourists to return to the Indian Ocean nation following several years of political unrest.
According to reports, at least one person was also killed in the violence that erupted outside the police station.
Police fired shots in the air to disperse the protesters, who had been hurling stones.
The mob then burnt down houses around the station before going on to find the home of the two foreigners.
“They confessed under torture [by the mob] to organ trafficking,” Gen Randriamaro Bobin told AFP.
Our correspondent says the incident may have political undertones as elections are scheduled to take place on 25 October and there are tensions nationwide.
Poor communities’ fears of human organ trafficking have been exploited in the past by those wanting to stir up tensions or as a means of revenge for another issue, our reporter says.
Instances of mob justice are common in Madagascar, he adds.
The French embassy in Madagascar has sent out text alerts warning French nationals not to travel to Nosy Be and urging foreigners on the island resort to remain indoors and not go to the beach where it is reported the foreigners were burnt.
“The two Europeans were killed and burnt on Ambatoloaka beach,” AFP quotes Honoya Tilahizandry, the commissioner of police in Andoany, Nosy Be’s main town, as saying.
A regional government official on Nosy Be blamed for the paramilitary police’s lax response to the case was reportedly kidnapped on Wednesday.