CAIRO: At least 235 worshippers were killed in a bomb and gun assault on a packed mosque by armed attackers on Friday in Egypt’s North Sinai province.
A bomb explosion ripped through the Rawda mosque before gunmen opened fire on those gathered for weekly Friday prayers, officials said. Witnesses said the assailants had surrounded the mosque with all-terrain vehicles and then planted a bomb outside.
The gunmen then mowed down the panicked worshippers as they attempted to flee.
State television reported at least 235 people were killed and 109 wounded in the attack, the scale of which is unprecedented in a four-year insurgency by terrorist groups. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack.Mobile phone footage purportedly taken from inside the mosque in the moments before the attack shows dozens of men, dressed mainly in white robes, sitting on the floor as they listened to a sermon.
Suddenly, an explosion is heard nearby and the men leap to their feet in panic and confusion. Other footage shows men fleeing for their lives as they run out of the mosque and onto the street.
Photographs showed rows of bodies, covered in bloodied sheets, lined up inside the mosque for Sufis where they had been praying just a short time before. Hours after the attack, Egypt’s military launched air strikes on targets in mountainous areas around Bir al-Abed, security sources and witnesses said.
Jihadist groups have regularly attacked Christian churches in Egypt but attacks against mosques have been rare. The military has struggled to quell jihadists who pledged allegiance to ISIS in 2014. Suspicion for Friday’s attack also fell on the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant’s (Isil) affiliate in the Sinai desert, which has waged a bloody insurgency against the Egyptian military. The jihadists have increasingly turned to civilian targets, attacking not only Christians and Sufis but also Bedouin Sinai inhabitants accused of working with the army.
Besides ISIS, Egypt also faces a threat from Al-Qaeda-aligned jihadists who operate out of neighbouring Libya