Cairo: Over 25 masked gunmen carrying Islamic State flag killed 305 worshippers, including 27 children, at a mosque frequented by Sufis in North Sinai province in Egypt, the public prosecutor’s office said on Saturday.
The terrorists came in five vehicles, surrounded the mosque, positioned themselves at the front door and 12 windows and began raining bullets on worshippers who were listening to sermons after Friday prayers.
They did not spare fleeing worshippers and ambulances rushing the dead and injured to various hospitals. They also set fire to parked vehicles to deny access to rescuers.
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi condemned the attack and said his government will respond with “the utmost force”. The government has declared three days of mourning.
Soon after the attack, the Egyptian military launched air strikes in the rugged and thinly populated mountains around Bir al-Abed where the mosque attackers are suspected to have fled.
Egyptian state TV showed images of bodies covered in blood lying inside the mosque as a handful of shocked worshippers stood by the side.
Attacks on mosques are rare in north Sinai where militants usually target security forces and members of the Coptic Christian community. However, some mosques Zuweid town had been targeted in the past.
Al-Rawda mosque draws Sufis who represent a mystic branch of Islamic thought. Although Sufis are Sunnis, some Islamist groups like IS consider them as infidels. IS had beheaded two elderly Sufi clerics last year.
For several years, Egyptian security forces have been battling IS affiliates who want to bring the entire Sinai Peninsula under the caliphate.
Their attacks intensified after the military overthrew Islamist President Mohammed Morsi amid protests in 2013. In October 2014, IS killed 33 security personnel forcing the government to declare emergency in North Sinai.
The group is suspected to be behind the bombing of a Russian plane over Sinai in 2015 that killed 224 people on board.