Militants set off a blast and gunned down fleeing worshipers at a packed mosque in Egypt’s northern Sinai Peninsula on Friday, killing at least 235 people in the deadliest single assault on civilians by suspected Islamist extremists in Egypt’s recent history.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack, which survivors described as a sophisticated, terrifying and unprecedented assault on a mosque that was frequented by Sufi Muslims: an attack planned, it appeared, to ensure that none of the worshipers survived.
As condolence calls poured in from world leaders, Sissi spoke on television, vowing that Egypt’s armed forces would respond with “brute force.”
“We cannot be intimidated,” he said. “Our will cannot be broken.” After the attack, Egypt’s military carried out airstrikes in northern Sinai concentrated in mountainous areas around the mosque, according to the Reuters news agency.
Egypt’s militants have targeted Coptic Christian churches in the past, but strikes against mosques have been rare in recent years. Nonetheless, orthodox Sunni Muslims and militant factions consider Sufism, a mystical branch of Islam, to be heretical, and last year Egyptian Islamist militants beheaded an elderly Sufi cleric in the northern Sinai.
The exact reason for the attack on the mosque, called al-Rawda, remained unclear. That the attack occurred near the town of Bir al-Abd, an area dotted with security outposts, underscored the ability of militants to strike at the heart of government-protected zones.
An injured survivor of the attack, interviewed by a local Sinai news outlet, said he saw between seven and 10 masked gunmen inside the mosque, wearing military uniforms and carrying the black flags favored by Islamic State militants. “They started shooting inside the mosque, and people started falling everywhere,” said the man, who was not identified in the video.
Footage of the aftermath of the assault showed dozens of bodies, covered with blankets or bloodied sheets, in rows inside the mosque. Some of the injured were ferried away in cars and in the beds of pickup trucks.
Horrible and cowardly terrorist attack on innocent and defenseless worshipers in Egypt. The world cannot tolerate terrorism, we must defeat them militarily and discredit the extremist ideology that forms the basis of their existence!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 24, 2017
— Narendra Modi PM (@Narendramodi_PM) November 25, 2017