CAIRO (AP) — In the deadliest-ever attack by Islamic extremists in Egypt, militants assaulted a crowded mosque Friday throughout prayers, blasting helpless worshippers with gunfire and rocket-propelled grenades and blocking their escape routes. At least 235 people had been killed earlier than the assailants acquired away.
The attack within the troubled northern a part of the Sinai Peninsula focused a mosque frequented by Sufis, members of a mystic motion inside Islam. Islamic militants, together with the native affiliate of the Islamic State group, contemplate Sufis heretics due to their much less literal interpretations of the religion.
The startling bloodshed within the city of Bir al-Abd additionally wounded at least 109, in keeping with the state information company. It supplied the newest signal that, regardless of greater than three years of preventing in Sinai, the Egyptian authorities has failed to discourage an IS-led insurgency.
President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi vowed that the attack “won’t go unpunished” and that Egypt would persevere with its struggle on terrorism. But he didn’t specify what new steps is likely to be taken.
The navy and safety forces have already been waging a troublesome marketing campaign in opposition to militants within the cities, villages and desert mountains of Sinai, and Egypt has been in a state of emergency for months. Across the nation, 1000’s have been arrested in a crackdown on suspected Islamists in addition to in opposition to different dissenters and critics, elevating concern about human rights violations.
Seeking to unfold the violence, militants over the previous 12 months have carried out lethal bombings on church buildings within the capital of Cairo and different cities, killing dozens of Christians. The IS affiliate can be believed to be behind the 2016 downing of a Russian passenger jet that killed 226 people.
Friday’s assault was the primary main militant attack on a Muslim congregation, and it eclipsed previous assaults, even relationship again to a earlier Islamic militant insurgency within the 1990s.
The militants descended on the al-Rouda mosque in 4 off-road automobiles as lots of worshipped inside. At least a dozen attackers charged in, opening fireplace randomly, the primary cleric at the mosque, Sheikh Mohamed Abdel Fatah Zowraiq instructed The Associated Press by cellphone from a Nile Delta city the place he was recuperating from bruises and scratches suffered within the attack.
He mentioned there have been explosions as nicely. Officials cited by the state information company MENA mentioned the attackers fired rocket-propelled grenades and shot males as they tried to run from the constructing. The militants blocked off escape routes with burning vehicles, three cops on the scene instructed The Associated Press, talking on situation of anonymity as a result of they weren’t licensed to speak to the press.
Abdullah Abdel-Nasser, 14, who was attending prayers together with his father, mentioned the capturing started simply because the cleric was about to begin his sermon, sending panicked worshippers dashing to cover behind concrete columns or no matter shelter they may discover. At one level, a militant shouted for kids to go away, so Abdel-Nasser mentioned he rushed out, although he was wounded within the shoulder by shrapnel and a bullet.
“I noticed many people on the ground, many lifeless. I do not assume anybody survived,” he mentioned at a hospital within the Suez Canal metropolis of Ismailia, the place round 40 of the wounded had been taken, together with many youngsters.
Mohammed Ali mentioned 18 members of his prolonged household had been killed within the attack. The mosque belonged to a neighborhood clan, the Jreer, so a lot of its members worshipped there.
“Where was the military? It’s only some kilometers away. This is the query we can’t discover a solution to,” he mentioned.
The attackers escaped, apparently earlier than safety forces might confront them.
Afterward, dozens of bloodied our bodies wrapped in sheets had been laid throughout the mosque flooring, in keeping with photographs circulating on social media. Relatives lined up exterior a close-by hospital as ambulances raced forwards and backwards. The state information company MENA put the loss of life toll at 235.
Resident Ashraf el-Hefny mentioned lots of the victims had been staff at a close-by salt mine who had come for Friday companies at the mosque.
“Local people introduced the wounded to hospital on their very own vehicles and vehicles,” he mentioned by phone.
No one claimed fast accountability for the attack. But the IS group affiliate has focused Sufis prior to now. Last 12 months, the militants beheaded a number one native Sufi non secular determine, the blind sheikh Suleiman Abu Heraz, and posted pictures of the killing on-line.
Islamic State group propaganda usually denounces Sufis. In the January version of an IS on-line journal, a determine purporting to be a excessive degree official within the Sinai affiliate of the group vowed to focus on Sufis, accusing them of idolatry and heretical “innovation” in faith and warning that the group will “not allow (their) presence” in Sinai or Egypt.
Millions of Egyptians belong to Sufi orders, which maintain classes of chanting and poetry meant to attract the trustworthy nearer to God. Sufis additionally maintain shrines containing the tombs of holy males specifically reverence.
Islamic hardliners view such practices as improper, even heretical, and militants throughout the area usually destroy Sufi shrines, saying they encourage idolatry as a result of people pray to the figures buried there for intercession.
El-Sissi convened a high-level assembly of safety officers as his workplace declared a three-day mourning interval.
In a press release, he mentioned the attack would solely “add to our insistence” on combatting extremists. Addressing the nation in a while tv, he mentioned Egypt is waging a battle in opposition to militancy on behalf of the remainder of the world, a declaration he has usually made in in search of worldwide help for the struggle.
President Donald Trump denounced what he referred to as a “horrible and cowardly terrorist attack on harmless and defenseless worshippers.”
“The world can’t tolerate terrorism” he mentioned on Twitter, “we should defeat them militarily and discredit the extremist ideology that varieties the idea of their existence!” He later tweeted that he would name el-Sissi and mentioned the attack confirmed the necessity to get “harder and smarter,” together with by constructing the wall he has promised alongside the U.S. border with Mexico.
Islamic militants stepped up their marketing campaign of violence in northern Sinai after the navy ousted the elected however divisive Islamist Mohammed Morsi from energy in 2013 and launched a fierce crackdown on Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood group.
The consequence has been a protracted, grinding battle centered on el-Arish and close by villages. The militants have been unable to manage territory, however the navy and safety forces have additionally been unable to convey safety, because the extremists repeatedly perform assaults.
The assaults have largely centered on navy and police, killing lots of, though precise numbers are unclear as journalists and impartial investigators are banned from the realm. The militants have additionally assassinated people the group considers spies for the federal government or non secular heretics.
Egypt has additionally confronted assaults by militants in its Western Desert.
Associated Press writers Maggie Michael in Ismailia and Ashraf Sweilam in el-Arish contributed to this report.