Sheetal Sukhija - Saturday 25th November, 2017
CAIRO, Egypt - Following one of the deadliest attacks in Egypt in recent memory, in which 235 people were killed and 109 others were injured, the country’s leadership has vowed a tough and forceful response.
On Saturday, a day after the al-Rawdah mosque in the town of Bir al-Abed in North Sinai region witnessed a massive attack, in which militants believed to be from the Islamic State terror group detonated explosive devices, and then opened fire on hundreds of worshippers gathered for Friday prayers, Egypt fired back.
Egypt's President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi vowed to respond with "the utmost force" and said in a televised address, “What is happening is an attempt to stop us from our efforts in the fight against terrorism. The armed forces and the police will avenge our martyrs and restore security and stability with the utmost force."
The Egyptian military said on Saturday that it has conducted air strikes on "terrorist" targets in response to the deadly mosque attack.
An army spokesman added that "terrorist spots,” where weapons and ammunition were reportedly stocked, had been bombed by air force jets in response.
The official added that several vehicles used in the attack had been located and destroyed and the President declared three days of national mourning in the country.
How the attack unfolded?
Local police and security officers said that after extremists drove four off-road vehicles and led the bombing at the mosque, firing on worshippers as a sermon was ongoing at the mosque.
After detonating the bombs at the mosque, dozens of gunmen were waiting outside the mosque and opened fire on those trying to escape the impact of the bomb.
The assailants also reportedly set parked vehicles on fire in the vicinity to block off access to the building, and fired on ambulances trying to help victims.
So far, the attack has not been claimed by any group, but comes at a time when the Egyptian security forces are engaged in battling an Islamic State insurgency that has killed hundreds of police officers and soldiers over the last three years.
Militants affiliated with the Islamic State have been behind scores of deadly attacks in the desert region.
Witnesses quoted in local reports said that the al-Rawda mosque is used by the local Sawarka tribe, which is known to cooperate with the security services against militants.
It is also popular with worshippers of Sufism, a mystical branch of Islam that is condemned by some jihadist groups.
Last December, after beheading two elderly men reported to be Sufi clerics, the head of ISIS's "religious police" in Sinai said that Sufis who did not "repent" would be killed.
However, this was the first time that worshippers inside a mosque have been targeted by militants in North Sinai.
In 2013, after Sisi led the campaign by Egypt's military to overthrew Islamist President Mohammed Morsi following mass anti-government protests, bloodshed in the Sinai has worsened.
Since then militants have mostly targeted security forces in their attacks and Sisi has presented himself as a bulwark against Islamist militants in the region.
However, since then, hundreds of police, soldiers and civilians have been killed, mostly in attacks carried out by the Sinai Province group, which is affiliated to ISIS.
In recent years however, jihadists have also targeted local Sinai tribes that are working with the armed forces, branding them traitors for cooperating with the army and police.
Earlier this year, in July, 23 soldiers were killed when suicide car bombs hit two military checkpoints in the Sinai.
The attack was subsequently claimed by the Islamic State.
In May, gunmen launched an attack on a Coptic group travelling to a monastery in southern Egypt, leaving 29 people dead.
World reacts to attack
Abdel Halim al-Azmi, secretary-general of the Worldwide Federation of Sufi Orders – a Cairo based international body representing million of Sufis internationally said, "Those who were killed today are martyrs with Allah ... they were praying before taking their last breath.”
Azmi said that the attack was a clear targeting of the minority close to the veneration of the Prophet Muhammad's birth early next month.
He said, “Last year around the same time, Daesh [Islamic State] killed a prominent Sufi sheikh in Sinai to coincide with the Moulid al-Nabawi [Prophet's birth] and now we see this heartbreaking attack that is intended to break Sufism.”
He said, “We have to put this attack in a wider context ... this is part of an extremist trend that has targeted Sufi orders globally. These terrorists see us Sufis as heretics because in the end we love the Prophet."
Arab League chief Ahmed Aboul Gheit condemned the attack as a "terrifying crime which again shows that Islam is innocent of those who follow extremist terrorist ideology.”
Meanwhile, U.S. President Donald Trump said on Twitter, “Horrible and cowardly terrorist attack on innocent and defenseless worshipers in Egypt. The world cannot tolerate terrorism, we must defeat them militarily and discredit the extremist ideology that forms the basis of their existence!”
Hours later, he said in another Tweet, “Will be calling the President of Egypt in a short while to discuss the tragic terrorist attack, with so much loss of life. We have to get TOUGHER AND SMARTER than ever before, and we will. Need the WALL, need the BAN! God bless the people of Egypt.”
The White House said in a statement, "The international community cannot tolerate barbaric terrorist groups and must strengthen its efforts to defeat terrorism and extremism in all its forms.”
The UN Security Council said in a statement, “The Secretary-General extends his deepest condolences to the families of the victims and to the Government and people of Egypt and wishes a swift recovery to those who have been injured. The Secretary-General calls for those responsible for today’s horrific attack to be swiftly brought to justice.”
U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May too denounced the attack and said, “Appalled by the sickening attack on a mosque in North Sinai. Condolences with all those in Egypt affected by this evil and cowardly act.”
And Britain Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, Boris Johnson said, “Deeply saddened by the abhorrent attack on a mosque in North Sinai, Egypt. My sincere condolences to all those affected by such a barbaric act.”
Swedish Minister for Foreign Affairs, Margot Wallstrom said, “I strongly condemn the attack in Sinai, Egypt. My sincere condolences to all those affected and to the people of Egypt.”
Giorgi Kvirikashvili, Prime Minister of Georgia, “Our most sincere condolences to the families of victims, the Government and the people of Egypt and everyone affected by the heinous attack on the mosque in Sinai.”
The Russian President Vladimir Putin sent a telegram of condolences to his Egyptian counterpart and said, “The killing of civilians during the mosque prayer strikes one with its cruelty and cynicism. We can see once again that the human morality concept is totally alien to terrorists.”
Landmarks pay tribute to victims
Landmarks and government buildings across the globe paid tribute to the victims of the attack.
In Paris, the Eiffel Tower went dark to honor victims of the attack.
A tweet on the Eiffel Tower's timeline read, "Tonight, from midnight, I will turn my lights off to pay tribute to the victims of the Egypt attack. #EiffelTower.”
Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo tweeted in French, “Terrorism has once again hit #Egypt. I offer my condolences to the families of the victims and my support for the injured. Tonight, the #TourEiffel will go out at midnight to pay tribute to them and underline the solidarity of #Paris."
In England's second largest city, The Library of Birmingham was lit up in the colors of Egypt's flag.
The city councillor Tristan Chatfield tweeted, “Tonight our B'ham Library is lit in the colours of Egypt in memory of the victims of the horrific attack earlier today.”
In Canada’s most populous city, Toronto, the CN Tower was also lit in honor of the attack's victims.
The Canadian government tweeted a photo of the 1,815-foot structure bathed in the colors of the Egyptian flag and said in a tweet, “Canada’s @TourCNTower is lit up in the colours of #Egypt to honour the victims of recent terrorist attacks. Canada stands shoulder-to-shoulder with the people of Egypt.”
In Israel, which borders the Sinai peninsula, Tel Aviv's city hall was lit up with the Egyptian flag.
Mayor Ron Huldai tweeted, along with a photo of the building, “A horrific attack in #Egypt. We send our condolences to our friends across the border and light the Municipality building in their honor.”
Huldai said in another tweet, "Our hearts and prayers are with our friends in #Egypt. We share a destiny and determination to stand up to #terror."
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