The death toll in a bomb and gun attack on a Sufi mosque in northern Sinai has risen to 305, with 27 children among the dead and another 128 people wounded. The deadly assault began when between 25 to 30 men arrived at the al Rawdah Sufi mosque in Bir al-Abed in five all-terrain vehicles and were armed with automatic machine guns.
The attackers positioned themselves at the main door and all of the mosque’s 12 windows. They also torched seven cars parked outside the mosque, which belonged to worshiper’s inside. After an explosion went off in a building adjacent to the mosque – worshippers began to flee. Gunmen fired on people fleeing after explosions took place at the mosque. The gunmen then went inside the mosque and began shooting people. The attackers used their vehicles to cut off escape routes and opened fire on ambulances as they reached the scene.
Survivors say some of the attackers were masked and those who were not- had heavy beards and long hair. All of the shooters wore camouflaged pants and black T-shirts. They spoke of worshippers jumping out of windows, a stampede in a corridor leading to the washrooms and of children screaming in horror as the shooting began. Everyone laid down on the floor and kept their heads down. Witnesses say the shooting was random and hysterical at the beginning and then became more deliberate as the attackers shot anyone they weren’t sure was dead. The attackers were shouting Allahu Akbar, or God is great as they shot.
The gunmen appear to have escaped from the scene after the massacre before Egyptian security forces could arrive. No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack but suspicions fall on ISIS and the Levant’s (Isil) affiliate in the Sinai desert, which has waged a bloody insurgency against the Egyptian military and the country’s Christian minority. The Egyptian military kicked off a hunt for the attackers, combing the area in their search. The attack is thought to be the deadliest terror attack on the country’s soil. President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi declared three days of national mourning, vowing to restore security and avenge those killed.
The mosque is known as the birthplace of Sheikh Eid al-Jariri, a Sufi cleric considered the founder of Sufism in the Sinai Peninsula. Sufism is a mystical branch of Islam that some ultra-orthodox Muslims consider heretical because of their less literal interpretations of the faith.
Egyptian security forces have been battling ISIS-aligned militants in northern Sinai for years. Suicide bombers attacked two Christian churches as worshipers were gathering on Palm Sunday in April of this year. At least 45 people were killed in the two attacks in Alexandria and and the city of Tanta. Four months before that, a suicide bomber killed 29 people in a chapel next to a Christian cathedral in Cairo.