Egypt: Hundreds dead as mosque attackers gun down worshippers

At least 235 people were killed and another 109 injured in an attack Friday on a Sufi mosque in Egypt’s North Sinai region, Egyptian state-run media reported, in what appears to be the deadliest terror attack on Egyptian soil.

After at least two explosions, gunmen who were waiting outside the mosque opened fire at worshippers as they fled Friday prayers, state-owned Ahram Online said.

The attack targeted al Rawdah mosque between Bir al-Abed and the city of al-Arish. Sufism is a mystical branch of Islam that some ultra-orthodox Muslims consider heretical.

Key developments

Coordinated attack: Gunmen fired on people fleeing after explosions took place at the mosque. The attackers also opened fire on ambulances, witnesses said.

The target: The mosque in the northern Sinai is known as the birthplace of an important Sufi cleric.

Egypt’s reaction: President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi vowed to respond to the attack with “brute force.”

‘Ambush’ followed blasts

The gunmen had set up “ambush” locations and opened fire on ambulances as they were transporting wounded worshippers from al-Rawdah toward al-Arish before the arrival of security services, eyewitnesses reported.

Photos from inside the mosque showed what appeared to be bodies lined up in rows on the carpet.

In a short, televised speech made after he met with security officials, Sisi vowed to restore security and avenge those killed.

“We will respond to this act with brute force against these terrorists,” he said. “This terrorist act will strengthen our resolve, steadfastness and will to stand up to, resist and battle against terrorism.”

He added: “Egypt is facing terrorism on behalf of the region and the world.”

The presidency has declared three days of national mourning.

The mosque is known for being the birthplace of Sheikh Eid al-Jariri, a Sufi cleric considered the founder of Sufism in the Sinai Peninsula.

The blasts from improvised explosive devices caused considerable damage to the mosque, Ahram Online said.

No claim of responsibility

No one has claimed responsibility for the attack, and there is no word yet on what happened to the militants involved. However, the strike bears the hallmarks of an attack by ISIS.

Egyptian security forces face almost daily attacks from ISIS-aligned militants, whom they have been battling in northern Sinai for years. However, mosque attacks are relatively rare in Egypt.

In October 2015, 224 people were killed when a bomb brought down a Russian passenger jet that crashed in the Sinai Peninsula. ISIS’ affiliate in Egypt claimed that attack.

International condemnation

Leaders around the world condemned the mosque attack.

President Donald Trump called it a “horrible and cowardly terrorist attack on innocent and defenseless” worshippers in Egypt and said terrorism and its ideology must be defeated.

UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said he was deeply saddened by the “abhorrent attack” on a mosque. “My sincere condolences to all those affected by such a barbaric act,” he tweeted.

UK Prime Minister Theresa May and French President Emmanuel Macron also gave their condolences on Twitter, while NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said his thoughts were with all those affected.

Jordanian King Abdullah II condemned what he called a “heinous terrorist attack” on the Jordanian royal family’s official Twitter account.

“We stand with Egyptians in their war against terrorism and against anyone who tries to harm the Egyptian national security,” Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said in a statement.

European Parliament President Antonio Tajani tweeted: “Heartbreaking loss of life in the cowardly massacre that took place in Egypt. Acts of barbarism and hatred in the name of God are acts against God himself.”