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.
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 .”
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