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News, November 2017
305 Muslim Worshippers Killed in an Egyptian Mosque in Sinai, Air Force Strikes Attackers' Hideouts
November 4, 2017
Egypt air force strikes hideouts used by terrorists behind Al-Rawda Mosque attack: Army spokesman
Ahram Online, Sunday 26 Nov 2017
Egyptian air forces carried out airstrikes in North Sinai overnight against hideouts used by terrorists involved in the Friday attack on a mosque in the governorate's Bir Al-Abd city, which left 305 worshippers dead and 128 injured, the Armed Forces spokesperson said in a statement on Sunday.
The airstrikes, which were carried out based on information received from Sinai residents, destroyed hideouts containing weapons, ammunition and explosive material.
Law enforcement personnel, in coordination with the air force, are combing the area where the strikes were carried out
Death toll from North Sinai mosque attack rises to 305
The attack is one of the deadliest in Egypt's recent memory
Ahram Online, Saturday 25 Nov 2017
At least 305 worshippers were killed and 128 were injured during Friday prayers at a North Sinai mosque by gunmen belonging to the terrorist group Daesh, making it the deadliest terrorist attack in Egypt’s recent memory.
The victims, who were praying at Al-Rawdah Mosque in Bir Al-Abd city, include 27 children killed in the attack, Egypt's prosecutor-general announced on Saturday.
The prosecutor-general said that according to eyewitnesses, 25 to 30 gunmen in camouflage trousers and bearing the Daesh black flag rode up to the mosque in five SUVs and started shooting at worshippers.
The gunmen, some of whom wore masks, attacked the mosque as the imam was starting the Friday sermon.
No group has claimed the responsibility of the attack so far.
Most of the terrorist attacks to take place in North Sinai in recent years mainly targeted security forces, and have been claimed by the Daesh-affiliated North Sinai-based group Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis.
In January 2017, the Daesh-affiliated online publication Rumiyah released an interview with an alleged leading figure in Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis, who described Al-Rawdah village as a Sufi centre, adding that the group is fighting Sufism in North Sinai.
In late 2016, Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis claimed responsibility for killing Sinai's oldest Sufi Sheikh Soliman El-Harez as well as the destruction of two Sufi shrines.
Sufism, often described as “Islamic mysticism,” involves a spiritual form of worship where adherents attempt to become close with God through meditation and asceticism.
Daesh considers Sufi Muslims to be heretics.
Al-Rawdah Mosque was built by El-Jaririyah, one of Sinai's largest Sufi orders.
Earlier today, Egypt’s army said that its air forces launched strikes in North Sinai, killing a number of terrorists involved in the Friday attack.
Gunmen in Egypt mosque attack carried Islamic State flag, prosecutor says
Omar Fahmy, Patrick Markey
November 24, 2017 / 6:39 AM / Updated a day ago
Gunmen who attacked a mosque on Friday in Egypt’s North Sinai brandished an Islamic State flag as they opened fire through doorways and windows, killing more than 300 worshippers, including two dozen children, officials said on Saturday.
No group has claimed responsibility, but Egyptian forces are battling a stubborn Islamic State affiliate in the region, one of the surviving branches of the militant group after it suffered defeats by U.S.-backed forces in Iraq and Syria.
The assault on a mosque has stunned Egyptians, prompting President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s government to tighten security at places of worship and key buildings, and call three days of mourning for the bloodiest attack in Egypt’s modern history.
State news agency MENA said the death toll had risen to 305, including 27 children, and 128 people were injured.
Egypt’s public prosecutor’s office, citing interviews with wounded survivors as part of its investigation, linked Islamic State militants, also known as Daesh, to the attack on the Al Rawdah mosque in Bir al-Abed, west of El-Arish city.
“The worshippers were taken by surprise by these elements,” the prosecutor said in a statement. “They numbered between 25 and 30, carrying the Daesh flag and took up positions in front of the mosque door and its 12 windows with automatic rifles.”
The gunmen, some wearing masks and military-style uniforms, had arrived in jeeps, surrounded the mosque and opened fire inside, sending panicked worshippers scrambling over each other to escape the carnage.
Witnesses had said gunmen set off a bomb at the end of Friday prayers and then opened fire as people tried to flee, shooting at ambulances and setting fire to cars to block roads. Images on state media showed bloodied victims and bodies covered in blankets inside the mosque.
“When the shooting began everyone was running, and everyone was bumping into one another,” Magdy Rezk, a wounded survivor, said from his hospital bed. “But I was able to make out masked men wearing military clothing.”
Damaged vehicles are seen after a bomb exploded at Al Rawdah mosque in Bir Al-Abed, Egypt November 25, 2017. REUTERS/Mohamed Soliman
Striking a mosque would be a shift in tactics for the Sinai militants, who have previously attacked troops and police and more recently tried to spread their insurgency to the mainland by hitting Christian churches and pilgrims.
Local sources said some of the worshippers were Sufis, whom groups such as Islamic State consider targets because they revere saints and shrines, which for Islamists is tantamount to idolatry. Islamic State has targeted Sufi and Shi‘ite Muslims in other countries like Iraq.
The jihadists in Egypt’s Sinai have also attacked local tribes and their militias for working with the army and police.
Sisi, a former armed forces commander who supporters see as a bulwark against Islamist militants, promised the “utmost force” against those responsible for Friday’s attack. Security has been a key reason for his supporters to back him, and he is expected to run for re-election next year.
Egypt’s military carried out air strikes and raids overnight to target hideouts and vehicles involved in the attack, the army said, without giving details on the number of militants.
“What is happening is an attempt to stop us from our efforts in the fight against terrorism,” Sisi said on Friday.
The Sinai attack came as Sisi’s government looks to draw more foreign investment and finish an IMF reform program to help revive an economy that struggled through instability after the 2011 uprising ousted long-standing leader Hosni Mubarak.
North Sinai, a mostly desert area stretching from the Suez Canal eastwards to the Gaza Strip and Israel, has long been a security headache for Egypt and is a strategic region for Cairo because of its sensitive borders.
Local militant group Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, once allied to al Qaeda, split from it and declared allegiance to Islamic State in 2014. But attacks in the Sinai worsened after 2013 when Sisi led the overthrow of President Mohamed Mursi of the Muslim Brotherhood after mass protests against his rule.
Writing by Patrick Markey; editing by Alexander Smith and Jeremy Gaunt
Egypt attack to spur on Saudi-backed Muslim military alliance: crown prince
Saudi Arabia’s powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said on Sunday an attack on an Egyptian mosque that killed more than 300 worshippers would galvanize an Islamic military coalition that aimed to counter “terrorism and extremism”.
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (C) poses for a photograph with chiefs of staff and defence ministers of a Saudi-led Islamic military counter terrorism coalition during their meeting in Riyadh November 26, 2017. REUTERS/Faisal Al Nasser
Top defense officials from 40 Muslim-majority nation’s met in Riyadh on Sunday. They are part of an alliance gathered together two years ago by Prince Mohammed, who is also Saudi defense minister.
The crown prince has said he would encourage a more moderate and tolerant version of Islam in the ultra-conservative kingdom.
Prince Mohamed told delegates that Friday’s attack in Egypt “was a very painful occurrence and must make us contemplate in an international and powerful way the role of this terrorism and extremism”.
Gunmen carrying the flag of Islamic State attacked the mosque in North Sinai.
The group of Muslim nations, called the Islamic Military Counter Terrorism Coalition, has yet to take any decisive action.
Officials say the group would allow members to request or offer assistance to each other to fight militants. This could include military help, financial aid, equipment or security expertise. The group, which will have a permanent base in Riyadh, would also help combat terrorist financing and ideology.
“The biggest threat from terrorism and extremism is not only killing innocent people and spreading hate, but tarnishing the reputation of our religion and distorting our belief,” Prince Mohammed told officials from the Middle East, Africa and Asia.
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman attends the meeting of Islamic Military Counter Terrorism Coalition defence ministers in Riyadh November 26, 2017. REUTERS/Faisal Al Nasser
Iraq and Syria, at the forefront of the battle against Islamic State, are not members, nor is mainly Shi‘ite Muslim Iran, the regional rival to mostly Sunni Saudi Arabia.
Qatar, originally part of the alliance, was not invited to Sunday’s meeting after Riyadh led a group of states seeking to isolate Doha, saying it supported terrorism. Doha denies this.
Abdul Elah al-Saleh, a Saudi lieutenant general and the coalition’s secretary general, said Qatar was excluded to help build a consensus for launching operations. He also said the group was not aimed at creating a Sunni bloc to counter Iran.
“The enemy is terrorism. It’s not sects or religions or races, its terrorism,” Saleh told reporters.
Saleh said military initiatives had been proposed to the group’s ministerial council, but he did not elaborate.
Despite agreement on principles, members voiced different priorities at the meeting. Yemen’s delegation said the focus should be Iran, al Qaeda and Islamic State, while Turkey called for “support from our friends” against Kurdish separatists.
Critics say the coalition could become a means for Saudi Arabia to implement an even more assertive foreign policy by winning the backing of poorer African and Asian nations with offers of financial and military aid.
Alongside leading a diplomatic charge against Qatar, Saudi Arabia is also leading a war against Iran-aligned Houthi rebels in its neighbor Yemen,
Saleh said Riyadh would pay the 400 million riyal ($107 million) bill for the coalition’s new center, but said other nations could offer financial support for specific initiatives.
Additional reporting by Aziz El Yaakoubi; Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg and Edmund Blair
Islamic State raises stakes with Egypt mosque attack
Yusri Mohamed, Mahmoud Mourad
The mosque was packed with hundreds of worshippers for Friday prayers in Egypt’s North Sinai when gunmen in military-style uniforms and masks appeared in a doorway and at windows.
Relatives of victims of the explosion at the Al Rawdah mosque, wait near past ambulances outside Suez Canal University hospital in Ismailia, Egypt November 25, 2017. REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh
The ease with which they mounted an attack - killing more than 300 people in the worst bloodshed of its kind in Egypt’s modern history - highlighted the threat militant groups pose in the most populous Arab country.
After four years of battling Islamic State in the Sinai, where the group has killed hundreds of soldiers and police,
authorities still face an enemy with growing ambitions in Egypt, despite its defeats in Iraq, Syria and Libya.
Carrying the black flag of Islamic State, the assailants arrived in off-road vehicles before opening fire on the cream-colored Al Rawdah mosque in Bir al-Abed, leaving its carpets stained with blood, officials and witnesses said.
People scrambled to escape as gunmen opened fire at worshippers, including dozens of children. By the time the shooting stopped, many of the village’s men were lifeless.
No group has claimed responsibility.
ATTACK RATTLES EGYPTIANS
Egyptians were stunned because the attack was directed at a mosque - a rarity in the country’s history of Islamist insurgencies.
The possibility that ultra-hardline Islamists are shifting tactics and picking new targets is worrying for Egypt, where governments have struggled to contain groups far less brazen than Islamic State.
Egyptian leaders have adopted a zero-tolerance policy, with air strikes, raids on militant hideouts and long prison sentences.
President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has once again threatened to crush the militants.
“The armed forces and the police will avenge our martyrs and restore security and stability with the utmost force in the coming period,” he said after Friday’s carnage.
Sisi has called for a comprehensive campaign to counter what he describes as the existential threat of radical jihadism, deploying moderate clerics to promote moderate Islam, for instance.
He is expected to run for a second term early next year. Even with a convincing win, he will face pressure to deliver on promises of stability, especially if attacks like that on Al Rawdah persist.
For Islamic State, the village was a target because of its ties to Sufism, a mystical form of Islam that hardline Islamist groups consider heretical.
Some villagers recalled how these threats were made about a year ago in an Islamic State internet publication.
In a December 2016 issue of al-Nabaa, one of the group’s religious leaders left little doubt that Sufis would be targeted. It mentioned Al Rawdah directly.
“Our primary focus lies in the war against polytheism and apostasy, and of those, Sufism, sorcery and divination,” he said. More threats were made in early 2017.
SUFIS CONDEMNED FOR BELIEFS
In March, Islamic State’s branch in the Sinai posted a video of its religious police forcing a group of Sufis to renounce their beliefs under threat of death.
It showed what it said were militants beheading two elderly Sufi men in the desert after they were found guilty of witchcraft and sorcery.
Egypt has about 15 million Sufis, and their shrines and saints appear in villages across the country.
Ultra-conservative Salafists abhor Sufi practices and some have in the past threatened to smash their symbols with hammers and iron bars.
Five police and army sources said there was no recent specific threat against Sufis in Al Rawdah.
Friday’s attack began in the early afternoon.
The mosque’s imam said he had just stepped onto the podium for his sermon when gunfire erupted and worshippers struggled to escape.
“I found people piled on top of each other and they kept firing at anyone,” imam Mohamed Abdel Fattah told Reuters from his hospital bed in Sharqiya city. “They fired at anyone who breathed.”
Ramadan Salama, 26, said all he remembers before ending up in hospital was gunmen entering the mosque during the sermon and spraying worshippers with gunfire.
As Egyptian security forces try to reassure an anxious public, they face yet another dangerous enemy.
A new group with military training is already posing a more complex threat. In October it mounted a sophisticated attack, not far from Cairo.
The little-known Ansar al-Islam claimed responsibility for the attack on police in the Western desert, far from northern Sinai. Security sources said dozens of police officers and conscripts were killed. The government said 16 police and conscripts died.
Security sources said the heavy weapons and tactics employed indicated ties to Islamic State or more likely an al Qaeda brigade led by Hesham al-Ashmawy, a former Egyptian special forces officer turned jihadist.
For now, security and intelligence officials will continue to hunt Ashmawy, described as the country’s most wanted man.
Egypt’s prosecutor’s office, citing its investigation and interviews with wounded survivors, says gunmen carried an Islamic State flag as they stormed the Al Rawdah mosque.
Authorities say 305 people, including 27 children, died as gunmen even attacked ambulances arriving on the scene. Another 128 were wounded.
“They entered the mosque from outside, almost 10 to 20 people with weapons, and they destroyed everything,” said resident Magdy Rezk from hospital.
It was a huge toll for a tiny village. Tribal leader Ibrahim el-Menaie, told Reuters via social media that it has a population of only 800.
“The whole village is black with mourning,” said resident Haj Ahmed Swailam.
Additional reporting by Nadine Awadalla and Eric Knecht; writing by Patrick Markey; editing by Michael Georgy and Giles Elgood
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