Egypt air strikes hit mosque attackers as toll rises to 305

Relatives of some victims of the attack on the North Sinai mosque waiting for news outside the Suez Canal University hospital in the eastern port city of Ismailia in Egypt yesterday.
Relatives of some victims of the attack on the North Sinai mosque waiting for news outside the Suez Canal University hospital in the eastern port city of Ismailia in Egypt yesterday.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Country in mourning as authorities hit back at militants who were carrying the ISIS flag

CAIRO • Egypt's military yesterday said it carried out overnight air strikes and raids against militants responsible for a deadly assault on a mosque in North Sinai that left more than 300 worshippers dead.

The attack at the Al-Rawdah mosque in Bir al-Abed on Friday also left 128 people injured, the MENA state news agency reported, while Egypt's public prosecutor's office linked it to Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militants.

Egypt raised its security threat level to the highest alert yesterday.

Air force jets destroyed vehicles used in the attack and "terrorist" locations where weapons and ammunition were stocked, an army spokesman said. "The air force has over the past few hours eliminated a number of outposts used by terrorist elements."

It has emerged that the gunmen involved in the attack were carrying an ISIS flag, and the state news agency reported that the death toll of 305 included 27 children.

"They (the terrorists) numbered between 25 and 30, carrying the Daesh flag and took up positions in front of the mosque door and its 12 windows with automatic rifles," the prosecutor said in a statement, using an Arab name for ISIS.

The gunmen, some wearing masks and military-style uniforms, surrounded the mosque blocking windows and a doorway and opened fire inside with automatic rifles after a bomb was set off at the end of Friday prayers, the statement said, citing the investigation and interviews with survivors.

During the carnage, the attackers shot at ambulances and set fire to cars to block roads.

A tribal leader and head of a Bedouin militia that fights ISIS said that the mosque is known as a place where Sufis gather. ISIS views Sufis as heretics for seeking the intercession of saints.

Egypt was in mourning, with special prayers planned nationwide a day after the attack.

President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has declared three days of mourning and vowed to "respond with brutal force" to the attack, among the deadliest in the world since the Sept 11, 2001, attacks in the US.

"What is happening is an attempt to stop us from our efforts in the fight against terrorism," he said on Friday.

"The army and police will avenge our martyrs and return security and stability with force in the coming short period."

World leaders have voiced outrage at the attack. President Halimah Yacob and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong wrote letters to Mr Sisi and Acting Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly, respectively, to offer Singapore's condolences over the attack.

"I was appalled by the attack on Al-Rawdah mosque in the North Sinai city of Bir Al-Abed on Nov 24, 2017, which led to the loss of many innocent lives and the injuries of countless others," Madam Halimah wrote in her letter to Mr Sisi.

"Singapore unequivocally condemns this heinous attack. We reaffirm our solidarity with Egypt and your people in this fight against the scourge of terrorism," she added.

Prime Minister Lee wrote in his letter to Mr Madbouly: "I was shocked and greatly dismayed by the deadly gun and bomb attack... Singapore strongly condemns this cowardly assault on peaceful worshippers during Friday prayers."

  • BIGGEST ATTACKS IN EGYPT

  • Here is a list of some of the biggest terror attacks in Egypt's history

    Nov 17, 1997

    62 people, including 58 tourists, are killed in an attack on Hatshepsut temple in Luxor claimed by Islamist militant group Jamaa Islamiyya.

    Oct 7, 2004

    Israeli tourists are among 34 people killed in three bombings in the Sinai resorts of Taba and Nuweiba. More than 100 people are wounded.

    July 23, 2005

    About 70 people are killed in three bombings in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh. Four groups claim the attacks, including one linked to Al-Qaeda.

    Aug 19, 2013

    Militants kill at least 25 policemen in the Sinai, the base of many armed Islamist groups.

    Oct 24, 2014

    A suicide car bombing by a suspected Islamist kills 30 soldiers.

    Jan 29, 2015

    30 people, mostly soldiers, die in coordinated attacks in the North Sinai claimed by the Egyptian wing of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group.

    Oct 31, 2015

    A Russian airliner carrying holidaymakers from Sharm el-Sheikh crashes, killing all 224 people on board. The Egyptian branch of ISIS says it downed the aircraft with a bomb.

    Dec 11, 2016

    A suicide bomber strikes at a church in Cairo, killing 29 Copts.

    April 9, 2017

    Two suicide bombings at churches kill 45 members of the Coptic Christian minority.

    May 26, 2017

    ISIS claims responsibility for shooting dead at least 29 Copts as they travel to a monastery.

    Oct 20, 2017

    Armed militants kill at least 30 police officers in a shoot-out during a raid on a suspected militant hideout in Egypt's western desert.

    Nov 24, 2017

    Militants kill at least 305 people during an attack on a mosque in Sinai province.

    AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Egypt has long been steadfast and resolute in the face of terror and violence, wrote Mr Lee.

" I am confident that Egypt and her people will overcome this attack with resilience and strength. Singapore stands united with Egypt in this difficult time and our thoughts and prayers are with the bereaved families and victims in this time of national mourning."

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on November 26, 2017, with the headline 'Egypt air strikes hit mosque attackers as toll rises to 305'. Print Edition | Subscribe