Egypt army kills 47 involved in mosque massacre

By Ahmed al-Sharqawi in Cairo and AFP


Yassin Taher (R), Ismailia governor, visits victims of the attack that targeted the Rawda mosque near North Sinai provincial capital of al-Arish, on November 25th, 2017, at a hospital in the eastern port city of Ismailia. Armed attackers killed 305 worshippers in a bomb and gun assault on the packed mosque in North Sinai, in the country's deadliest attack in recent memory. [STR/AFP]

Egyptian army warplanes struck militant hideouts in North Sinai on Saturday (November 25th) in retaliation for the massacre that claimed the lives of hundreds of worshippers at the Rawda village mosque.

According to the state prosecution, up to 30 militants in camouflage flying the "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS) group's black banner had surrounded the mosque and massacred the worshippers during weekly Friday prayers.

The gun and bomb assault on the Rawda village mosque in Bir al-Abed, roughly 40 kilometres west of the provincial capital of al-Arish, killed 305 people including 27 children.

Another 128 people were wounded, AFP reported.


The Garir mosque in Rawda village in North Sinai came under a gun and bomb attack on November 25th. [Ahmed al-Sharqawi/Al-Mashareq]

ISIS has not claimed responsibility for the attack, but it is the main suspect as the mosque is associated with followers of the mystical Sufi branch of Sunni Islam whom it has branded heretics.

Funerals for the victims were held overnight and many were buried unwashed in their bloodied clothes, according to the Islamic burial practices for martyrs, security and medical officials said.

Egypt's President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi declared three days of mourning and vowed to "respond with brutal force" to the attack.

"The army and police will avenge our martyrs and return security and stability with force in the coming short period," he said in a televised speech.

Pursuing the perpetrators

Hours later, Egyptian air force jets pursued the "terrorists and discovered several vehicles used in the terrorist attack, killing those inside near the vicinity of the attack", army spokesman Col. Tamer al-Refai said.

Al-Refai said that 47 militants were killed in airstrikes in North Sinai.

Al-Tarabeen tribesmen, who are taking part with the armed forces in their fight against ISIS, also have killed 10 militants as they tried to flee the area after the attack.

Rawda village boasts a population of 2,111, roughly half of whom are men, said resident Mahmoud Ali.

"More than 25% of them were killed in the terrorist attack," he told Al-Mashareq.

Among those killed are "Sheikh Moussa Abu Nusair, a sheikh of the Jariri Sufi order", he said, adding that "the perpetrators were most likely targeting Sufi order sheikhs because residents had received warnings in the past".

Ayman Eid, who survived the mosque massacre, said the militants were wearing paramilitary uniforms.

"Worshippers at the mosque were about to mark the anniversary of the assassination of Sheikh Suleiman Abu Harraz whom ISIS assassinated on November 19th, 2016," he told Al-Mashareq.

ISIS behind attack

The attack on the Rawda village mosque brings a new dimension to operations carried out by ISIS affiliate Wilayat Sinai, said military expert Maj. Gen. Mahmoud Zaher.

"ISIS has never carried out attacks on mosques of this scale, and therefore the attack was not expected," he told Al-Mashareq.

"The group committed that massacre according to their belief in the principle of al-wala wal bara (loyalty and disavowal) under which they kill Copts and Sufis," he said.

"This operation proves that ISIS elements in Iraq and Syria have joined the group in Sinai," Zaher said.

In 2013, ISIS destroyed the al-Hassan al-Askari and al-Hadi shrines in Iraq, he said. The group also destroyed the shrine of prophet Seth and the tomb of Jonah (Nabi Yunus) in the Iraqi city of Mosul in 2014.

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Our condolences to Egypt and its generous people for the victims of attack on Bir al-Abed mosque! They’re by all means martyrs, and we console ourselves first. The criminal killers aren’t Muslims and don’t belong to any religion or sect because all divine religions prohibit the killing of souls and spilling of blood. If you want to know the perpetrator, look for the enemy of yesterday and ally of today. We repeat our condolences.