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At least 235 dead in horror mosque bombing as leaders condemn 'barbaric attack'

The attack took place during weekly prayers at a mosque in Egypt, police officials said.

shutterstock_644108158 (1) Cairo, Egypt Source: Prin Adulyatham via Shutterstock

Updated 5.25pm

GUNMEN HAVE ATTACKED a packed mosque in Egypt’s North Sinai province and set off a bomb, killing at least 235 people in one of the country’s deadliest attacks in recent memory, state media has reported.

A bomb explosion ripped through the Rawda mosque roughly 40 kilometres west of the North Sinai capital of El-Arish before gunmen opened fire on the worshippers gathered for weekly prayers, officials have said.

State television reported that at least 235 people were killed and 109 wounded in the attack, which is unprecedented in a four-year insurgency by Islamist extremist groups.

The Islamic State (IS) group’s Egypt branch has killed hundreds of policemen and soldiers, and also civilians accused of working with the authorities, in attacks in the north of the Sinai peninsula.

They have also targeted followers of the mystical Sufi branch of Sunni Islam as well as Christians. The victims included civilians and conscripts praying at the mosque.

A tribal leader and head of a Bedouin militia that fights IS told AFP that the mosque is known as a place of gathering for Sufis. IS shares the puritan Salafi view of Sufis as heretics for seeking the intercession of saints.

President Michael D Higgins and Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney have both condemned the attack.

“As President of Ireland may I offer the sympathy of the people of Ireland to the families of the victims of the attacks in Bir al-Abed; and express our solidarity with the people of the region, whose right to worship is being attacked. These attacks will have shocked people all over the world,” Higgin said.

Coveney added: “I offer the sympathies of the Irish people and the Government of Ireland to the families of those who lost their lives in today’s terrorist attack, to those who were injured, and to the Egyptian nation at this difficult time.

I utterly condemn this heinous attack on people engaged in Friday prayers. The Egyptian people have long shown their resolve against hatred and intolerance.

UK Foreign Minister Boris Johnson condemned the “barbaric attack” in a post on Twitter, while his French counterpart Jean-Yves Le Drian expressed his condolences to the families of victims of the “despicable attack”. US President Donald Trump also condemned the “horrible and cowardly” attack.

Ahmed Abul Gheit, head of the Arab League, which is based in Cairo, condemned the “terrifying crime which again shows that Islam is innocent of those who follow extremist terrorist ideology,” his spokesman said in a statement.

Church bombings

The jihadists had previously kidnapped and beheaded an elderly Sufi leader, accusing him of practising magic which Islam forbids, and abducted Sufi practitioners later released after ‘repenting’.

The group has killed more than 100 Christians in church bombings and shootings in Sinai and other parts of Egypt, forcing many to flee the peninsula.

The military has struggled to quell the jihadists who pledged allegiance to IS in November 2014.

IS regularly conducts attacks against soldiers and policemen in the peninsula bordering Israel and the Palestinian Gaza Strip, although the frequency and scale of such attacks has diminished over the past year.

The jihadists have since increasingly turned to civilian targets, attacking not only Christians and Sufis but also Bedouin Sinai inhabitants accused of working with the army.

Aside from IS, Egypt also faces a threat from Al-Qaeda-aligned jihadists who operate out of neighbouring Libya.

A group calling itself Ansar al-Islam – Supporters of Islam in Arabic – claimed an October ambush in Egypt’s Western Desert that killed at least 16 policemen.

Many of those killed belonged to the interior ministry’s secretive National Security Service.

The military later conducted air strikes on the attackers, killing their leader Emad al-Din Abdel Hamid, a most wanted jihadist who was a military officer before joining an Al-Qaeda-affiliated group in Libya’s militant stronghold of Derna.

© – AFP, 2017, with reporting by Órla Ryan

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