On Friday, terrorists stormed a mosque in the Northern Sinai peninsula of Egypt, killing at least 235 worshipers during the time after regular Friday prayers, which draw Muslim adherents to mosques every week around the world. More than a dozen attackers approached the mosque in off-road vehicles, setting off several explosives, and opening fire on people fleeing by blocking off exits with their vehicles and shooting at those who were running from explosions. An additional 120 people were wounded from what has been declared to be the deadliest single attack on Egyptian civilians ever. It is still unknown who orchestrated the massacre during such a peaceful time of prayer.
A local resident described the attack by explaining that “they were shooting at people as they left the mosque. They were shooting at the ambulances too.” Abdel Fattah Sisi, Egypt’s President, has declared national mourning will occur for three days, stating “this incident won’t do anything except increase our determination and strength to combat terrorism.” Sisi further expressed the “painful” and “criminal” actions “will not go unpunished” and “the armed forces and the police will avenge our martyrs and restore security and stability with the utmost force.” Timothy Kaldas, a fellow from the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy in Washington and professor at Nile University in Cairo explains that “historically the state has struggled to exercise full control over northern Sinai” as “the area is underdeveloped and is mostly mountainous desert terrain.” Kaldas confirms the action “fits the pattern of ISIS attacks” who have been “more willing to target civilians, as we saw with a lot of attacks on the Egyptian-Christian community in the past year.”
This is an atrocious attack on peaceful worshipers during one of the busiest times for all mosques anywhere around the world. This indicates the attack was intended to kill large numbers of Muslim people within a place that is intended to be a safe space for the adherents to reflect and spend time with their God and community. This is another example for those who condemn Islam as the problem of violence by reconfirming that terrorism affects Muslims, and that violence by these terrorist groups is not guided by foundations of religion. Thus, the international community as a whole, regardless of religion, needs to work together to combat these violent attacks against all people.
The attack occurred in Bir al-Abed, which is about 40 kilometres west of North Sinai’s capital El Arish, making it an easy target because it is away from the city. The mosque is also frequented by Sufis, and the area has previously been associated with groups that claim affiliation to ISIS. The region has struggled against Islamic militant groups for around three years, so it is possible that these groups are responsible for the attacks. However, previous attacked have always targeted soldiers, police and Christian Egyptians, which would make this a rare attack on a Muslim place of worship by these groups within Egypt. The attack could be aimed at Sufi worshipers who hold different practices to the other denominations of Islam (Sunni and Shia) and have been supportive of the government rather than cooperating with ISIS. Some residents have stated masked men warned the mosque earlier this year against helping the police.
Activists on Facebook are raising awareness for blood donations to the hospitals around the area for the victims of the attack. During this time it is important for increased local support of the injured, and the families of the deceased. While the international community needs to continue to figure out and implement peaceful solutions to these horrific crimes of violence.
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