Men Wearing Military Uniform Carried Out the Deadly Assault on the Sufi Mosque

Egyptian authorities said,”Dozens of men wearing military combat uniforms and armed with automatic machine guns carried out the deadly assault on a Sufi mosque in northern Sinai,”reported the CNN.

Twenty-five to 30 attackers arrived in five SUVs at  the al-Rawdah Sufi mosque in Bir al-Abed on Friday. The state prosecutor told state-run Nile TV in a statement that some wore masks and at least one was carrying an ISIS flag,

They positioned themselves at the building’s entrances and the front of the mosque shortly before the massive gunfire and loud explosions rang out.

By the time the attackers’ weapons went quiet, 305 people were dead, including 27 children, the prosecutor said Saturday. An additional 128 people were wounded.

The al Rawdah Sufi mosque is known as the birthplace of an important Sufi cleric. Sufism is a mystical branch of Islam that some jihadists consider heretical.

Last Friday, Egypt was rocked at noon by a coordinated assault by gunmen on a mosque in the Sinai Peninsula.

Gunmen opened fire on worshippers during Friday noon prayers – the most important period of observance for Muslims, where mosques are usually crowded – killing 235 people and injuring 109 others.

During the noon sermon, four off-road vehicles carrying armed men arrived at the al-Rawdah mosque in Bir al-Abed, a small village 40km west of North Sinai’s main city Al-Arish.

Sitting outside a hospital emergency room, a survivor who still had shrapnel in an eye that was covered by a bandage, said that he believed he survived because he was covered by the bodies of other victims as the attackers went around the mosque to ensure everyone was dead.

Another witness at a nearby hospital said,”No one got out of the mosque.” The man, who also declined to be identified out of fear of retaliation, said his father and eight other family members, including a brother and nephew, were killed.

Egypt has set aside three days of national mourning and Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has ordered the armed forces to build a memorial to those killed at the mosque, a statement on his official Facebook page said.

Ahmed El-Tayyeb, the grand imam of Al-Azhar, condemned the “barbaric attack” on the mosque and said Egyptians would prevail over terrorism with solidarity and determination.

Al-Azhar is the premier religious authority in Egypt.

Al-Sisi promised to respond to the massacre – believed to be the deadliest terrorist attack in the country – with “brute force.”

The next day of the attack, Egyptian warplanes conducted airstrikes “terrorist outposts” containing weapons, ammunition and radical elements following the attack, as reported by the military.

No group has claimed responsibility from ISIS or its affiliate in Egypt.

However, the attack carries the hallmarks of a strike by ISIS. The group maintains a foothold in the north of the Sinai Peninsula and inspires local Islamist extremist groups despite the efforts of Egyptian security forces.

Al-Sisi has expressed concern recently that ISIS militants fleeing Iraq and Syria would come to Egypt.

The Egyptian security forces face almost daily attacks from militants with ISIS ties in northern Sinai.

Sinai Province, which pledged allegiance to ISIS in 2014, has been behind numerous attacks and hundreds of deaths in the desert region. It claimed responsibility for the bombing of a Russian passenger jet that crashed in October 2015 in the Sinai Peninsula, killing 224 people.

Timothy Kaldas, a fellow at the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy, said that If it turns out ISIS militants are behind the latest attack, “it reflects their willingness to continue to do large operations that have large civilian casualties.”

There would be two plausible motives for an ISIS attack, he said.

First, ISIS considers Sufis to be heretics, making the Sufi mosque a legitimate target in the eyes of ISIS, even though all worshipers probably weren’t Sufi.

Second, Kaldas said, ISIS may be taking revenge against members of the Sawarkah tribe, to which most of the people in the area belong, because it has been cooperating with the Egyptian government in its campaign against Sinai Province.