Hundreds of worshippers killed in Egypt mosque attack

Scores more wounded after al-Rawdah mosque in north Sinai targeted in attack marking major escalation in battle with insurgents

At least 235 people have been killed and ratings more injured in a bomb and gun assault on a mosque in Egypt’s north Sinai, in the deadliest attack in the country in recent memory.

A bomb rent through the mosque as Friday prayers were finishing, before militants in four off-road vehicles approached and opened fire on worshippers, a military source told the Guardian. Some witness said they had ensure around 20 attackers.

More than 50 ambulances ferried casualties from al-Rawdah mosque in Bir al-Abed, about 25 miles( 40 km) west of the city of Arish, to nearby hospitals. Scenes from the scene depict rows of bloodied victims inside the mosque, and at the least 130 people were reported to be injured.

No group claimed responsibility for the attack, but it marks a major escalation in a region where for the past three years Egyptian security forces have battled an Islamic State insurgency that has killed hundreds of police and soldiers.

The Egyptian president, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, delivered a defiant television address on Friday evening, vowing to respond with “brute force” and offering condolences to the families of victims.

” This act will only increase our will and unity ,” he said.” The police and military will avenge our martyrs and restore peace and security .”

He added:” We will respond with brute force to combat these terrorists and deviants … This is an attempt to deter us from combating terrorism and to destroy our will, but we are steadfast, and I say to all Egyptians, the combat you are fighting is more honourable .”

Hours after the two attacks, Egypt’s military launched airstrikes on targets in mountainous areas around Bir al-Abed, security sources and witnesses said.

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Sisi, a former armed forces commandant who presents himself as a bulwark against Islamist activists in the region, convened an emergency security meeting with his defence and interior ministers and intelligence chief after the attack and proclaimed three days of mourning.

One witness, a shop owned from Bir al-Abed, said local people heard a massive blast followed by gunfire. When he arrived at the site of the attack he saw people rushing to pick up the organs and to offer help to the injured. He said he saw at least 20 bodies wrapped in cloths and blankets.

One resident whose relatives were at the scene told Reuters that the attackers shot at people as they left the mosque, and also at the ambulances. The attackers had also set alight nearby vehicles to try to block routes away from the mosque.

The mosque belongs to a Sufi order- a mystical branch of Islam whose adherents are regarded by hardline Islamists as apostates because they revere saints and shrines.

An Isis propaganda outlet has previously published an interview with the commander of its “morality police” in Sinai who said their” first priority was to combat the manifestations of polytheism including Sufism “.

The attack came days before the annual celebrations of the prophet Muhammad’s birthday. Festivals are being held by Sufi-affiliated mosques around the country.

Another witness, a student who devoted his name only as Mohamed, told the Guardian he had heard calls for help emanating from other nearby mosques after Friday’s attack.

” I went with my family and friends to the scene of the mosque and procured ambulances loading bodies and injured ,” he said.” What happened in al-Rawdah is a carnage against peaceful civilians .”

Mohamed said residents went to every pharmacy and clinic they could to gather medicine and instruments for local hospitals treating the wounded.

” In the Ber al-Abd hospitals, there was chaos ,” he said.” Blood and hollering were everywhere. We heard that[ all] male members of one family were killed, the elders, the youth and the children .”

Egyptians
Egyptians walk past bodies following a gun and bombing attack at the Rawda mosque. Photo: STRINGER/ AFP/ Getty Images

Striking at a mosque would be a change in tactics for the Sinai activists, who have usually targeted security force since bloodshed in the Sinai worsened after Sisi led the subvert of President Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood in 2013.

But jihadis have also targeted Sinai tribes working with the armed forces, branding them traitors for their cooperation.

In July, at least 23 soldiers were killed when suicide car bombs reached two military checkpoints in the Sinai, an attack for which Isis claimed responsibility.

The local Isis affiliate, Wilayat al-Sinai( the Governorate of Sinai ), also carried out the previous deadliest attack in the region, when it downed a Russian passenger plane carrying tourists back from the resort of Sharm el-Sheikh in 2015, killing 224 people.

Militants have tried to expand beyond the largely barren, desert Sinai peninsula into Egypt’s heavily populated mainland, assaulting Coptic Christian churches and pilgrims.

In May, gunmen attacked a Coptic group traveling to a monastery in southern Egypt, killing 29.

The grand imam of al-Azhar mosque in Cairo, the centre of Sunni learning, condemned the attack as an” attempt to spread chaos “.

” After targeting Christians, the turning for mosques have come ,” he said in a statement.” As if terrorism wants to unite Egyptians in demises and chaos, however it will be defeated, and the will of Egyptians will prevail .”

There was also international condemnation for the two attacks. The UN security council and Secretary-General Antonio Guterres issued a statement calling the assault a” heinous and cowardly terrorist attack” and called for the perpetrators to be brought to justice.

” The world cannot tolerate terrorism, we must defeat them militarily and discredit the radical ideology that forms the basis of their existence ,” US President Donald Trump wrote on Twitter, calling the assault” horrible and cowardly “.

He afterward tweeted 😛 TAGEND

Donald J. Trump (@ realDonaldTrump)

Will be calling the President of Egypt in a short time to discuss the tragic terrorist attack, with so much loss of life. We have to get TOUGHER AND SMARTER than ever before, and we will. Require the WALL, require the BAN! God bless the people of Egypt.

November 24, 2017

The UK foreign minister, Boris Johnson, denounced the “barbaric” assault, while his French counterpart, Jean-Yves Le Drian, expressed his condolences to the families of victims of the” despicable assault “.

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

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