By Arab News
By Malek Awny
At least 235 people were killed and 109 injured in a terrorist attack on a mosque in North Sinai, which Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi vowed to respond to with “brute force.”
The Egyptian Air Force targeted the vehicles of the attackers during their escape and killed at least 15 armed men suspected of carrying out the assault.
In the deadliest terrorist attack in Egypt’s modern history, terrorists targeted worshippers during their Friday prayers at Al-Rawdah mosque in Bir Al-Abed, about 40 kilometers from Al-Arish city in North Sinai. Militants set off a bomb and opened fire on worshippers inside the mosque and those trying to escape. The terrorists then escaped using 4WD cars.
El-Sisi said that the attack would only strengthen the resolve of the Egyptian people.
He said in a televised speech after a meeting of the special security committee, which included the defense minister and the head of the general security service, that “the armed forces and the police will avenge our martyrs and restore security and stability with utmost force in the very near future.” He added: “We will respond to this act by brute force to face this extremist group.”
Reuters said that the worshippers were supporters of the government, quoting what it called a security source and an eyewitness. Hussam Al-Rifai, Egyptian MP from Al-Arish area, said that the majority of the victims of the attack were from the Sawarka tribe and the attack was revenge for the tribe’s support of the Egyptian armed forces and the police against terrorism. The mosque follows a Sufi order called “Jaririyeh.”
Al-Sawark tribe issued a statement last May announcing that it was joining Al-Tarabin tribe in fighting Daesh in Sinai.
The statement said that the tribe “believes that ‘Daesh in Sinai’ is a cancerous extension of the parent Daesh in the region, and that it is a link in the chain of the wider project that aims to destroy the homelands and divide the region into smaller states in which people scramble and brothers fight each other.”
“We have agreed to enter a direct military confrontation with the terrorist gangs in Sinai (…) under the umbrella of the state and in coordination with the valiant armed forces, and in partnership with our brothers from other tribes.”
El-Sisi said: “What is happening in Sinai is a response against true efforts made against terrorism, which we are fighting alone. Egypt is facing terrorism on behalf of the region and the whole world.”
He said that the attack on Al-Rawdah mosque comes in the context of “an attempt to destroy our resolve and stop our efforts to stop the terrible criminal plan which aims to destroy what is left of the region.”
El-Sisi said that he wanted Egyptians “to be sure and confident that the battle we are fighting is the most honorable battle,” and expressed his confidence that God would grant victory to Egypt in its fight against “the evil people.”
Mai Mujib, professor of political science at Cairo University, said: “Yesterday’s (terrorist) operation cannot be separated from the successes achieved by the Egyptian security forces against infiltration attempts into Egypt in the recent past.”
Mujib pointed to the success of the Egyptian Air Force in killing terrorists who had tried to enter Egypt from Libya in the past few weeks, and the dismantling of many Muslim Brotherhood terrorist cells, the last of which happened in Beheira governorate in the northern part of Egypt.
Mohammed Juma, an expert at the Arab and Regional studies Unit at Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo, believes that it is more likely the attack was carried out by Daesh group, because there are no terrorist organizations in Egypt which hold views allowing the targeting of such a place with an intensive civilian presence except Daesh.
Bir Al-Abed area has witnessed many terrorist attacks in the past few months, including a similar attack on Sept. 11 against a security convoy, which killed 18 Egyptian security personnel. A suicide bomber driving a car targeted a security convoy, which was followed by an attack by terrorists using grenades and guns, and riding motorcycles and 4WD cars coming from the the desert alongside the “international highway” in the area. At that time, the Sinai Province militant group took responsibility for the attack, condemning what it called the agreements between the Egyptian intelligence service and the leadership of Hamas.
The village of Sbeikah near Bir Al-Abed witnessed another attack, which killed four members of the police force on Aug. 9.
Juma refused to link yesterday’s attack to new developments regarding the Egyptian reconciliation arrangements between the two Palestinian movements Fatah and Hamas.
“The reconciliation efforts are not fast or easy enough to represent an immediate danger at the moment for the terror groups close to Daesh in Gaza,” he said. “Moreover, operations targeting civilians and civilian institutions by Daesh elements in northern Sinai had been increasing before the announcement about Egypt’s efforts on the Palestinian reconciliation path. And Christians in Al-Arish suffered from attacks aimed at pushing them out of their homes in January and February 2017.”
Juma believes that the attack may have many aims, but comes in the context of moving the operations of the Sinai Province Group toward the areas to the west of the “Rafah-Arish-Sheikh Zuweid” triangle, “which witnessed a big increase in the size of the security presence and operations against the terrorist group, making it more difficult for the terrorists to move easily and carry out operations effectively.”
Mujib said: “The security successes in Rafah area forced the terrorist group to take an important part of its operations to the west,” noting that this move reveals that the group has other logistical and supply paths on top of the border with Gaza Strip, which was targeted heavily in recent times.
Mujib said: “The attack against a mosque reveals a shift in the nature of the places which could be targeted by the organization,” noting that “this means that the organization adopts more hard-line religious views which allows the targeting of civilians and even Islamic places of worship.”
Juma said that “targeting civilians and places of worship in such a huge way reflects the effects of Daesh in Syria and Iraq on the Sinai terror group, which makes it in a state of hostility with everyone. A possible cause is the influx of Daesh elements coming from Syria and Iraq to Sinai.”
Juma added: “Yesterday’s attack was an attempt to find an easy target to cause big losses, and the terrorist group managed to use the attack as a propaganda for itself among extremist elements, especially with the rise of signs for a new confrontation between Sinai Province group and some Al-Qaeda groups which are retrying to strengthen their presence in Egypt.”
Jund Al-Islam group, which is part of Al-Qaeda, claimed responsibility for an operation on Oct. 11 against the Sinai Province group. Jund Al-Islam posted an audio recording on the Internet on Nov. 11 announcing that it “Targeted (Omar) Al-Baghdadi’s khawarij (outsiders) on Oct. 11 because of their continuous aggressions against Muslims in Sinai, their blockade of Gaza Strip, and their betrayal of their brothers in the group.”
Jund Al-Islam asked members of Daesh to repent and defect from Al-Baghdadi’s organization, which “divided Muslims,” and brutalized their Muslim brothers without any religious proof.
Jund Al-Islam threatened Daesh that it would eradicate their presence in Sinai if they “did not stop their actions and wrongdoings.”