CAIRO: Armed attackers on Friday killed at least 235 worshippers in a bomb and gun assault on a packed mosque in Egypt’s restive North Sinai province, in the country’s deadliest attack in recent memory.
A bomb explosion ripped through the Rawda mosque frequented by Sufis roughly 40 kilometres west of the North Sinai capital of El-Arish before gunmen opened fire on those gathered for weekly Friday prayers, officials said.
Witnesses said the assailants had surrounded the mosque with all-terrain vehicles then planted a bomb outside.
The gunmen then mowed down the panicked worshippers as they attempted to flee and used the congregants’ vehicles they had set alight to block routes to the mosque.
The state prosecutor’s office said in a statement that 235 people were killed and 109 wounded in the attack, the scale of which is unprecedented in a four-year insurgency by Islamist extremist groups.
US President Donald Trump condemened on Twitter the “horrible and cowardly terrorist attack on innocent and defenseless worshippers.”
A furious Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi declared three days of mourning and pledged to “respond with brutal force” to the attack.
“The army and police will avenge our martyrs and return security and stability with force in the coming short period,” he added in a televised speech.
Russian President Vladimir Putin sent condolences to Sisi, calling the attack “striking for its cruelty and cynicism”, while condemnations poured in from Israel, Iran, Saudi Arabia and other countries.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the bloodshed.
The Islamic State 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 of Friday’s attack 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.