305 civilians, including 27 children, were murdered at Friday prayers in what is being widely described as the bloodiest terrorist attack in Egypt’s modern history. The death toll from the attack on Al Rawda Mosque in North Sinai’s Bir El Abd on Friday rose to 305 yesterday, including 27 children, the state news agency reports, citing a statement from the Prosecutor General’s Office. At least 128 others were injured in the attack, when a group of 25-30 gunmen traveling in five vehicles and flying the black and white Daesh flag surrounded the mosque. The attackers opened fire and lobbed hand grenades at worshippers through the windows during the weekly Friday prayer, according to the statement to the prosecutor’s office. Daesh hasn’t officially claimed responsibility for the attack. It is widely believed that the mosque and its worshipers were attacked for practicing Sufi Islam, which Daesh considers heresy.
In a speech on Friday following the attack, President Abdel Fattah El Sisi promised that his administration would respond with the “utmost force.” He centered the attack in the context of Egypt’s war against terror and vowed to intensify efforts to restore security in Sinai. El Sisi issued orders to tighten security “at places of worship and key buildings” and declared three days of nationwide mourning.
El Sisi also instructed officials to begin drafting a comprehensive development plan for the Bir El Abd area, where the attack took place. The president also declared that monetary compensation of EGP 200k will be issued to the families of each of the dead, while those injured will receive EGP 50k each.
You can view the full speech here (watch, runtime: 4:06).
Military in pursuit: Egypt’s military launched airstrikes in the areas around Al Rawda mosque where they believe more militants were hiding out, unnamed security officials tell Reuters. The Air Force had destroyed vehicles of suspected terrorists in the area, according to a statement from the Armed Forces’ spokesperson. Reports are emerging of retaliatory attacks by the Air Force in Rafah at the border with Gaza. Egyptian authorities decided to delay the opening of the Rafah border crossing, which had been scheduled to allow people through for three days starting Saturday, the Palestinian embassy in Cairo announced.
The international community was quick to condemn the attack. UN Secretary General António Guterres and the Security Council referred to the incident as a “heinous and cowardly terrorist attack” in a statement. Similar statements came from leaders across the region and beyond, including Saudi’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz, Jordan’s King Abdullah II, Kuwait’s Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmad Al Sabah, Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Al Hariri, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Iraqi President Fuad Masum, Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, French President Emmanuel Macron, and the foreign ministers of the UAE, Lebanon, Kuwait, and India.
The White House and US embassy issued statements that “condemn in the strongest terms [the] horrific terrorist attack.” The United States asserted that “there can be no tolerance for barbaric groups that claim to act in the name of faith but attack houses of worship.” US President Donald Trump also told El Sisi in a phone call that Egypt would have full support in stepping up its fight against terrorist groups in the region. “Horrible and cowardly terrorist attack on innocent and defenseless worshipers in Egypt,” Trump said on Twitter. “The world cannot tolerate terrorism, we must defeat them militarily and discredit the extremist ideology that forms the basis of their existence!”
Trump went on to draw the far-fetched link between fighting the terrorists and building his wall on the border with Mexico. He also plugged his Muslim ban. “Will be calling the President of Egypt in a short while to discuss the tragic terrorist attack, with so much loss of life,’’ Trump said Friday on Twitter. “We have to get TOUGHER AND SMARTER than ever before, and we will. Need the WALL, need the BAN! God bless the people of Egypt.’’
International coverage on the crisis varied from recording the testimony of survivors of the attack to “we told you so.” The Associated Press was on the scene with survivors who not only described in vivid detail the carnage of the event, but also the methodical way in which the terrorists carried it out.
Plenty of international outlets focused on Egypt’s strategy in Sinai. “For Sinai experts, the assault sharpened scrutiny of Egypt’s counterinsurgency tactics against a dogged Islamist insurgency that has surged in strength since 2013, after Mr. Sisi came to power in a military takeover,” write Declan Walsh and David Kirkpatrick of the New York Times. The two claim the military’s tactics in Sinai have isolated and alienated the population of the peninsula. The Associated Press’ Hamza Hendawi makes the same point, asking what other options are available to the administration in battling the terrorist insurgency. Meanwhile, the Guardia’s Jason Burke covers the capabilities of the terrorists.
The attack has put a spotlight on Egypt’s Sufi Muslim community, and how more than ever before, Daesh is shifting its strategy from targeting security forces and Christians to other Muslims. “Striking a mosque would be a shift in tactic for the Sinai militants, who have previously attacked troop and police and more recently tried to spread their insurgency to the mainland by hitting Christian churches and pilgrims,” Reuters notes. Interviews with local sources, however, confirmed that some of the worshippers at Al Rawda were Sufi Muslims, which for Daesh made them targets “because they revere saints and shrines, which is for Islamists is tantamount to idolatry.” Bloomberg’s Eli Lake writes “the terror in Egypt on Friday is only the latest grim reminder that Muslims are often the first victims of Muslim fanatics.” The New York Times is running an explainer on who Sufi Muslims are and why extremists and terrorists hate them, while the Associated Press traces the history of Daesh attacks and threats on Sufi Muslims in Sinai.
Al Arabiya is going so far as to state that Al Rawda Mosque had been threatened with an attack one year ago, citing anonymous sources.