Saturday 21 September 2019

Death toll from Egypt mosque attack raised to 305

Injured people are evacuated from the scene of the attack in the northern Sinai Peninsula (AP)
Injured people are evacuated from the scene of the attack in the northern Sinai Peninsula (AP)

The death toll from a militant attack on an Egyptian mosque has been raised to 305, including 27 children, the country's chief prosecutor has said.

Nabil Sadeq said the attack in the Sinai Peninsula on Friday also left 126 people wounded.

He said it was carried out by 25 to 30 militants who arrived at the mosque in the small town of Bir al-Abd in five all-terrain vehicles.

He says the militants stationed themselves at the mosque's main door and 12 windows before opening fire on worshippers inside. They also torched seven cars parked outside.

There was no claim of responsibility for the attack, the deadliest by Islamic extremists in Egypt's modern history.

The mosque is frequented by Sufi Muslims, a mystic school of Islam that militants consider heretic.

Quoting evidence given to investigators by survivors, the prosecutor's statement said some of the attackers were masked. Those who were not sported heavy beards and long hair. The militants wore camouflaged trousers and black T-shirts.

Also on Saturday, the military said warplanes had targeted several vehicles in which some of the attackers were travelling. All passengers of the vehicles were killed, it added.

It was impossible to independently verify the claim since the media is virtually banned from working in Sinai.

The chief prosecutor's statement was the most detailed by authorities on the attack. The account generally agreed with what witnesses told the Associated Press on Saturday in the Suez Canal city of Ismailia, where some of the wounded are in hospital.

They spoke of horrific scenes during the 20 minutes it took the militants to kill and maim worshippers. They spoke of some jumping out of windows, a stampede in a corridor leading to the washrooms and of children screaming in horror. Some spoke of their narrow escape from a certain death, others of families that lost all or most of their male members.

One witness, Ebid Salem Mansour, said the imam had barely made it on to the mosque pulpit to deliver the sermon when intense gunfire rang out.

"We knew that the mosque was under attack by (militants)," he said.

Mr Mansour, a 38-year-old worker in a nearby salt factory, said he settled in Bir al-Abd three years ago to escape the bloodshed and fighting elsewhere in northern Sinai. He suffered two gunshot wounds in the legs on Friday.

"Everyone laid down on the floor and kept their heads down. If you raised your head you get shot," he said.

"The shooting was random and hysterical at the beginning and then became more deliberate. Whoever they weren't sure was dead or still breathing was shot dead.

"I knew I was injured but I was in a situation that was much scarier than being wounded. I was only seconds away from a certain death."

Islamic militants, including the local affiliate of the Islamic State group, consider Sufis heretics because of their less literal interpretations of the faith.

President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi vowed that the attack "will not go unpunished" and that Egypt would persevere with its war on terrorism, but he did not specify what new steps might be taken.

On Saturday, he ordered a mausoleum be built in memory of the victims.

The military and security forces have been waging a tough campaign against militants in the towns, villages and desert mountains of Sinai, and Egypt has been in a state of emergency since April.

Across the country, thousands have been arrested in a crackdown on suspected Islamists as well as against other dissenters and critics, raising concern about human rights violations.

Seeking to spread the violence, militants have over the past year carried out deadly bombings on churches in the capital of Cairo and other cities, killing dozens of Christians.

The IS affiliate is also believed to be behind the 2016 downing of a Russian passenger jet that killed 226 people over Sinai.


PA Media

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