A group of terrorists in camo pants and black T-shirts stormed into the al-Rawdah mosque in northern Sinai on Friday, using explosives and machine guns to kill as many people as possible.
Militants set fire to cars in an attempt to block escape routes and even opened fire on ambulances as they rushed the wounded to the nearest hospital. The death toll has reached 305, including 27 children. At least 128 others were wounded.
“There is not a single house in this region that has not lost a relative in the attack,” said a resident of Ber al-Abd, the village where the mosque is located. “Every family is mourning. Every individual is impacted." Egyptians buried the dead in mass graves, keeping victims in their bloodstained clothing as is customary when burying martyrs.
The Egyptian army struck back on Saturday with a series of airstrikes targeting the militants’ vehicles and hideouts.
“The Egyptian Air Force pursued the terrorist elements, discovered and destroyed a number of vehicles that carried out the brutal terrorist killings, and killed all terrorists inside those vehicles,” said a military spokesman.
No group has claimed responsibility for the massacre, but the attack most likely comes from the Sinai Province – an Egyptian branch of ISIS that has staged numerous attacks in northern Sinai since 2013. Most of these attacks have targeted army troops and policemen, but violence against Coptic Christians in the area is increasing.
Friday’s attack is the deadliest terror attack in the country’s modern history and is the first to target a mosque. The al-Rawdah mosque belongs to the Sufi order – a mystical branch of Islam that ISIS regards as heretical. The attack comes as Sufis gear up for the annual celebration of the prophet Muhammad’s birthday, which occurs in a few days.
“Almost every sign points toward ISIS in Sinai,” said Sinai expert Mohannad Sabry. “They have had a decades-old lethal animosity with the Sufi community in Sinai and have killed several of their most revered clerics over the past years.”
The attack will increase pressure on Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi, who has failed in his promise to halt regular terror attacks – especially in northern Sinai, where security forces struggle with attacks almost daily.
Just a few weeks ago, Sisi called for a restructuring of military leadership following the death of 16 policemen during a failed raid on a militant hideout.
“We will respond to this act with brute force against these terrorists,” announced Sisi, who has declared three days of national mourning. “This terrorist act will strengthen our resolve, steadfastness, and will to stand up to, resist, and battle against terrorism.”