The Egyptian state news agency MENA has reported the death toll from an attack on a mosque in the volatile northern Sinai Peninsula has risen to 235 people killed.
The attack appeared to be the latest by the area’s local Islamic State affiliate. The agency added that 109 people had been wounded.
The attack on the al-Rawda mosque, largely attended by Sufi Muslims, in the town of Bir al-Abd, 40 kilometres from the North Sinai provincial capital of El-Arish.
Officials said militants in four off-road vehicles bombed the mosque and fired on worshippers during the sermon segment of Friday prayers.
Egypt’s presidency has declared three days of mourning.
Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi has condemned the extremist attack on a mosque in the troubled Sinai Peninsula, calling it “criminal” and “cowardly” and expressing condolences to the victims and their families.
In a televised statement on Friday evening, Mr al-Sisi said that the attack “will not go unpunished” and that Egypt will persevere with its war on terrorism. The suffering of the victims was not in vain, he added, and will only “add to our insistence” to combat terrorism.
The UN Security Council and Secretary-General Antonio Guterres have condemned the deadly attack on a mosque in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula in “the strongest terms” and called for the perpetrators to be brought to justice.
The council statement called it a “heinous and cowardly terrorist attack” and reiterated that all acts of terrorism “are criminal and unjustifiable, regardless of their motivation”.
Security Council members, including Egypt which is serving a two-year term, “reaffirmed that terrorism in all its forms and manifestations constitutes one of the most serious threats to international peace and security”.
Paris’ mayor says the Eiffel Tower will go black at midnight in homage to the victims of the deadly assault in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula.
View of the Rawda mosque after a gun and bombing attack, on November 24.
Via Twitter, Anne Hidalgo addressed her “condolences to the victims’ families” and her “support to the people wounded” after Friday’s attack in which at least 200 people were killed.
She said that turning off the lights at the famed Paris monument would send a message of solidarity from the French capital that has itself been the site of a spate of deadly extremist attacks in recent years.
French President Emmanuel Macron also went to Twitter to send his “condolences to the victims of the terrible attack” against Sinai’s Bir El-Abd mosque that was attacked by militants during Friday prayers who targeted worshippers with gunfire.
US President Donald Trump is denouncing what he’s calling the “horrible and cowardly terrorist attack on innocent and defenceless worshippers in Egypt”.
Mr Trump said on Twitter that “the world cannot tolerate terrorism” and that “we must defeat them militarily and discredit the extremist ideology that forms the basis of their existence!” Mr Trump’s tweet came as he was playing golf at one of his Florida courses with Tiger Woods and Dustin Johnson.
Israel is sending condolences to Egypt. Naftali Bennett, Israel’s Education Minister, said after the attack Friday that this “a time for international unity in the war on terror wherever it presents itself: Russia, Europe, the US, Israel and the Arab World — we have all been hurt by terror and must unite in our battle against it”.
Israel and Egypt signed a peace treaty in 1979 and maintain close security co-operation.
Egypt has been battling militants in the restive Sinai region, including the Egyptian affiliate of the Islamic State. The 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 Sunni Islam as well as Christians.
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 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 Islamic State group shares the puritan Salafi view of Sufis as heretics for seeking the intercession of saints.
The jihadists 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 jihadists who pledged allegiance to IS in November 2014.
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.
The jihadists 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 IS, Egypt also faces a threat from Al-Qaeda-aligned jihadists who operate out of neighbouring Libya.
A group calling itself Ansar al-Islam — Supporters of Islam in Arabic — claimed an October ambush in Egypt’s Western Desert that killed at least 16 policemen.
Many of those killed belonged to the interior ministry’s secretive National Security Service.
The military later conducted air strikes on the attackers, killing their leader Emad al-Din Abdel Hamid, a most wanted jihadist who was a military officer before joining an Al-Qaeda-affiliated group in Libya’s militant stronghold of Derna.
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