Gunmen attacked a packed mosque in Egypt’s restive North Sinai province on Friday and set off a bomb, killing at least 115 people in one of the deadliest attacks in the country’s recent history, state media reported.
A bomb explosion ripped through the Rawda mosque roughly 40 kilometres west of the North Sinai capital El-Arish before gunmen opened fire on the worshippers gathered for weekly Friday prayers, officials said.
The official Al-Ahram newspaper reported on its website that at least 115 people were killed and 80 other wounded in the attack, which is unprecedented in a four-year insurgency by extremist groups in the country.
The militant Islamic State (IS) 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 Islam as well as Christians. The victims 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.
The militants had previously kidnapped and beheaded an elderly Sufi leader, accusing him of practising magic which Islam forbids, and abducted Sufi practitioners later released after “repenting.” The group has killed more than 100 Christians in church bombings and shootings in Sinai and other parts of Egypt, forcing many to flee the peninsula.
The military has struggled to quell the militants who pledged allegiance to the IS in November 2014. The IS regularly conducts attacks against soldiers and policemen in the peninsula bordering Israel and the Palestinian Gaza Strip, although the frequency and scale of such attacks has diminished over the past year.
They have since increasingly turned to civilian targets, attacking not only Christians and Sufis but also Bedouin Sinai inhabitants accused of working with the army.
Aside from the IS, Egypt also faces a threat from Al Qaeda-aligned militants who operate out of neighbouring Libya.