Isis is currently blamed for the attack where militants detonated a bomb and shot victims, including women and children, with machine guns.
Updated: The death toll has risen to 305, with 27 children among the dead. Another 128 people were injured. Between 25 and 30 armed men carried out the assault. The attackers had long beards and hair, and wore military fatigues. They also set up “ambush” locations and opened fire on ambulances. President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi vowed to respond to the massacre with “brute force”.
- Militants in four vehicles drove up to the mosque
- Set off an explosive outside building
- Opened fire on worshippers inside
- Suspects fled as security forces arrived
Militants armed with guns and a bomb stormed a mosque in Egypt’s restive northern Sinai on Friday, killing at least 200 people and wounding 125 others in the deadliest single attack in the country in years.
The assault, which took place west of the coastal town of El-Arish, targeted people gathered for Friday prayers at the Rawda mosque, which is frequented by Sufis. Attacks on mosques are rare in Egypt, where the majority of the 95 million population is Muslim. Sufi Islam is a mystical interpretation of the religion and its followers are considered heretics by jihadist movements.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility. But Sinai province, a triangular piece of land bordering southern Israel and the Gaza Strip, has been the key battleground in the government’s fight against an Islamic State affiliate. While the violence isn’t seen as threatening the stability of President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi’s government, it has devastated the tourist industry, a vital pillar of an economy that’s struggling back to life after years of post-Arab Spring upheaval. El-Sisi called a meeting of the security committee, state-run television said.
“This represents the scary prospect that the list of targets they are willing to pursue is growing,” said Timothy Kaldas, non-resident fellow at the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy. “It is hard to know, however, if they were targeted because they were Sufis or because they were perceived to be collaborating with the government,” he said.
It was the deadliest attack since Islamic State’s Egyptian affiliate in 2015 bombed a Russian passenger plane carrying holidaymakers from the Red Sea resort of Sharm El-Sheikh, killing 224 people.
While the majority of the militant violence has been confined to the northern part of the Sinai, it has on occasion spilled over to Cairo and other major cities. Attacks against Egypt’s Coptic Christian minority have killed dozens.
On Friday, militants in four vehicles drove up to the Rawda mosque, set off an improvised explosive device outside the building and opened fire on people praying inside, according to a senior official in the north Sinai security directorate who asked not to be named. Locals took up weapons to help thwart the attackers, the official said. The suspects fled as security forces arrived.
The attack was unusual in several ways for Egypt, said Kamran Bokhari, senior analyst at George Washington University’s Program on Extremism: the high casualty toll, targeting a mosque and its level of sophistication.
Islamic State’s arm in Sinai has attacked Sufi shrines with increasing frequency over the past year and has also kidnapped and killed Sufi preachers, posting images of the executions online. The mosque attack, however, marks a major escalation in the conflict.
“This is a very big attack” that would again hit tourism, said Kaldas. So far, the insurgency has mainly been a northern Sinai problem, he said, adding that with the exception of attacks on the Copts, the number of assaults outside Sinai has actually fallen.
Authorities replaced the military’s chief of staff and almost a dozen top police officials after at least 16 police conscripts and officers were killed in an ambush southwest of Cairo last month.