WASHINGTON - Egyptian officials said 305 people were killed Friday by suspected militants in an attack on a packed mosque in the volatile northern Sinai Peninsula. Twenty-seven of the dead were children.
The public prosecutors office said Saturday that 25 to 30 extremists targeted the al-Rawdah mosque in Bir al-Abed, west of the provincial capital, el-Arish.
Militants arrived at the mosque in four-wheel-drive vehicles, set off an explosion and then ran inside, where they opened fire on worshippers as they tried to escape. The gunmen also used burning cars to block exits from the building.
Eyewitnesses also said the militants fired on ambulances as emergency personnel tried to evacuate the wounded to hospitals. The state news agency said 128 people were wounded in the attack.
The attack targeted a mosque frequented by Sufis, members of a mystic movement within Islam.
No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, but an Islamic State affiliate has been carrying out attacks in the region since 2013.
Egyptian government warplanes reportedly attacked terrorist targets in the Sinai following the carnage at the mosque.
President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi vowed that the attack “will not go unpunished” but did not specify what steps might be taken.
U.S. President Donald Trump reacted to the violence, calling it a “horrible and cowardly terrorist attack on innocent and defenseless worshippers.”
Trump added, “The world cannot tolerate terrorism, we must defeat them militarily and discredit the extremist ideology that forms the basis of their existence!” in a tweet sent from Florida, where he is staying over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend.
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!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 24, 2017
Neighboring Israel sent condolences to Egypt following the attack. Israel and Egypt signed a peace treaty in 1979 and maintain close security cooperation.
Egypt’s security forces are battling an Islamic State insurgency, mostly in the northern region of Sinai, where militants have killed hundreds of police officers and soldiers since fighting there intensified in the past three years.
Militants have targeted security forces, but have also struck beyond the Sinai by hitting Christian churches and civilians in other parts of Egypt.
Egyptian media reported that Sissi met with top security officials, including the defense and interior ministers, immediately after the attack as security was stepped up around government buildings.
List of Recent Militant Attacks in Egypt:
- Nov. 24, 2017, Egyptian security officials say 305 people were killed by suspected Islamic militants in an attack on a mosque in the northern Sinai peninsula.
- May, 2017, Twenty eight people were killed when militants opened fired on a bus that carried Coptic Christians who were making their way to St. Samuel the Confessor monastery in the southern town of Maghagha.
- April, 2017, two churches were hit by suicide bombers in Alexandria, a coastal city, and the Nile Delta city of Tanta. The attack, during Palm Sunday services, killed at least 43 people and dozens were wounded.
- December, 2016, a bombing at a chapel next to Egypt’s main Coptic Christian cathedral in Cairo killed 30 people.
- October, 2015, a passenger airliner crashed in the Sinai Peninsula after it took off from Sharm el-Sheikh Airport. More than 220 people on board the Russian Metrojet plane were killed. Islamic State took responsibility.
- July, 2014, a gunman associated with an Islamic State affiliate group attacked Egyptian police and military personnel with rocket-propelled grenades near a post in Egypt’s western desert at the Libyan border. Militants killed 21 soldiers.
- October, 2014, another strike in the Sinai in killed 30 officials at a military checkpoint.