» » Sad news - Attack on mosque in Egypt's Sinai martyred at least 235 prayers -

Agence France Presse
CAIRO: Armed attackers Friday killed at least 235 worshippers in a bomb and gun assault on a packed mosque in Egypt's restive North Sinai province, state media reported, the country's deadliest attack in recent memory.

A bomb explosion ripped through the Rawda mosque frequented by Sufis roughly 40 kilometers west of the North Sinai capital of El-Arish before gunmen opened fire on those gathered for weekly Friday prayers, officials said.

Witnesses said the assailants had surrounded the mosque with all-terrain vehicles then planted a bomb outside.

The gunmen then mowed down the panicked worshippers as they attempted to flee and used the congregants' vehicles they had set alight to block routes to the mosque.

State television reported at least 235 people were killed and 109 wounded in the attack, the scale of which is unprecedented in a four-year insurgency by Islamist extremist groups.

Egypt's presidency declared three days of mourning, state television reported, as President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi met his security ministers to follow developments.

U.K. foreign minister Boris Johnson condemned the "barbaric attack" in a post on Twitter, while his French counterpart Jean-Yves Le Drian expressed his condolences to the families of victims of the "despicable attack."

Ahmed Abul Gheit, head of the Arab League, which is based in Cairo, condemned the "terrifying crime which again shows that Islam is innocent of those who follow extremist terrorist ideology," his spokesman said in a statement.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack.

Daesh's (ISIS) Egypt branch has killed hundreds of policemen and soldiers, and also civilians accused of working with the authorities, in attacks in the north of the Sinai peninsula.

They have also targeted followers of the mystical Sufi branch of Sunni Islam as well as Christians.

The victims of Friday's attack included civilians and conscripts praying at the mosque.

A tribal leader and head of a Bedouin militia that fights Daesh told AFP that the mosque is known as a place of gathering for Sufis.

Daesh shares the puritan Salafi view of Sufis as heretics for seeking the intercession of saints.

The extremists had previously kidnapped and beheaded an elderly Sufi leader, accusing him of practicing magic which Islam forbids, and abducted Sufi practitioners later released after "repenting."

A Daesh propaganda outlet had published an interview earlier with the commander of its "morality police" in Sinai who said their "first priority was to combat the manifestations of polytheism including Sufism."

The group has killed more than 100 Christians in church bombings and shootings in Sinai and other parts of Egypt, forcing many to flee the peninsula.

The military has struggled to quell extremists who pledged allegiance to Daesh in November 2014.

Daesh regularly conducts attacks against soldiers and policemen in the peninsula bordering Israel and the Palestinian Gaza Strip, although the frequency and scale of such attacks has diminished over the past year.

The extremists have since increasingly turned to civilian targets, attacking not only Christians and Sufis but also Bedouin Sinai inhabitants accused of working with the army.

Aside from Daesh, Egypt also faces a threat from al-Qaeda-aligned extremists who operate out of neighboring Libya.

A group calling itself Ansar al-Islam - Supporters of Islam in Arabic - claimed an October ambush in Egypt's Western Desert that killed at least 16 policemen.

Many of those killed belonged to the interior ministry's secretive National Security Service.

The military later conducted air strikes on the attackers, killing their leader Emad al-Din Abdel Hamid, a most wanted extremists who was a military officer before joining an al-Qaeda-affiliated group in Libya's militant stronghold of Derna.

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Attack on mosque in Egypt’s Sinai kills at least 235 in deadliest militant strike

CAIRO — Militants set off a blast and gunned down fleeing worshipers at a crowded mosque in Egypt’s northern Sinai Peninsula on Friday, killing at least 235 people in what could mark the deadliest single assault on Egyptian civilians by suspected Islamist extremists.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack on the mosque — which is often frequented by Sufi Muslims — where an apparent suicide bombing ripped across the facade and people were shot as they tried to scramble to safety.

Egyptian security forces have struggled for years against an Islamic State affiliate based in the Sinai Peninsula that has killed hundreds of police and military personnel in an insurgency against the government of President Abdel Fatah al-Sissi. 

The mosque death toll, reported by state media, could not be independently confirmed. Yet Egyptians were already mourning it as the biggest loss of life from a militant attack in decades — surpassing the number of dead in the downing of a Russian airliner over Sinai in 2015. That attack is believed to have been carried out by Islamic State-linked militants.

Islamist attacks have targeted Coptic Christian churches in the past, but strikes against mosques have been rare. Many Sunni Muslim militant factions consider Sufism, a mystical branch of Islam, to be heretical.

The bloodshed at the Rawda mosque, near the town of Bir al-Abd, took place in an area dotted with security outposts, underscoring the ability of militants to strike at the heart of government-protected zones.

The attack also had the hallmarks of a highly coordinated operation. Militants arrived at the mosque in several four-wheel-drive vehicles, according to Egypt’s ambulance authority. Bombs were detonated at the mosque, and as worshipers fled, they were gunned down by the militants, the authority said.

But further details remained unclear, including the number of assailants and why the mosque was targeted. 

Dozens of bodies, covered with blankets or bloodied sheets, lay in rows inside the mosque after the attack. Some of the injured were ferried away in cars and in the beds of pickup trucks.

In a televised speech, the Egyptian president Sissi offered condolences to the victims and vowed that Egypt’s armed forces would respond with “brute force.”

“We cannot be intimidated,” he said. “Our will cannot be broken.”

Militants attacked a mosque in the northern region of Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula Nov. 24, killing at least 235 people. (Bir al-Abed News)
Tarek Eldewiry, a 22-year-old resident of Bir al-Abd who was not present during the attack but spoke to injured friends and neighbors afterward, said the assault started with an explosion outside the mosque after the first Friday sermon.

“When the people ran outside, a number of gunmen started shooting randomly at everyone,” he said. Some survived by running back inside the mosque, he added. 

The mosque would have been packed. It was frequented by the town’s residents, and on Fridays, travelers on the road often stopped to pray there, Eldewiry said. 

“Horrible and cowardly terrorist attack on innocent and defenseless worshipers in Egypt,” wrote President Trump in a tweet. “The world cannot tolerate terrorism, we must defeat them militarily and discredit the extremist ideology that forms the basis of their existence!”

Egypt’s insurgency gathered momentum after a military coup in 2013 that ousted Mohamed Morsi, Egypt’s first democratically elected president and a leader of the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood. 

The militants have repeatedly mounted large-scale, complex attacks on security personnel. Since July 2013, at least 1,000 members of the security forces have been killed in attacks in Sinai, according to data compiled by the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy.

Assaults on civilians — like Friday’s mosque siege — have been more rare. The Islamic State affiliate in Egypt, called Wilayat Sinai, had previously claimed responsibility for the downing of a Russian airliner over Sinai in October 2015 that killed all 224 people on board. The militants have also increasingly targeted Egypt’s Coptic Christian minority, as well as Sufi Muslims, considered heretics by the Islamic State.  

Sinai remains one of the lingering strongholds for the Islamic State as the group’s self-proclaimed caliphate in Syrian and Iraq has all but collapsed under air and ground attacks.  

Last year, militants in Egypt claiming affiliation with the Islamic State asserted responsibility for two beheadings near Arish. One of the dead was an elderly cleric, identified as Sulaiman Abu Haraz, who was believed to have ties to the area’s Sufi followers.

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