Sinai mosque massacre: What we know | Egypt News

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Armed attackers killed at least 235 people in a mosque in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, according to state media. The attack, which took place in the town of Bir al-Abed, about 40km west of the provincial capital of North Sinai, El Arish, happened shortly after Friday prayers.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi called the attack “criminal” and “cowardly” in a televised statement on Friday.

Hours after the attack, Egyptian warplanes took to the skies, targeting the mountainous areas around Bir al-Abed.

Here is what we know so far.

What happened?

During the Friday prayers at a Sufi mosque in Bir al-Abed, North Sinai, four 4WD vehicles drove up to the mosque. Reports said the attackers planted explosives and then opened fire on worshippers.

The attackers next targeted fleeing worshipers with gunfire.

At least 235 people were killed and 120 wounded, according to Egyptian state media. It was the deadliest attack of this kind in Egypt’s history.

Images circulating on Twitter and shown on Egyptian TV showed dozens of bodies covered in blood, lying on the floor of the mosque.

Most of their faces were covered with white cloths, while other bodies were wrapped in prayer rugs. Some men and women could be seen next to the bodies.

The Bir al-Abed mosque is believed to have been an easy target because it was outside the province’s main cities.

Another possible reason the mosque was targeted was because it followed a Sufi sect. Sufis are considered infidels by groups such as Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS).

However, Friday’s prayers were most probably attended by non-Sufis as well.

The incident came one day before the Egypt-Palestine border crossing at Rafah was supposed to open. The crossing had been due to open for three days beginning on Saturday, after being closed last August.

However, Egypt has said the border will now remain closed due to security concerns.

Who is behind the attack?

So far, no group has claimed responsibility but local affiliates of ISIL, also known as ISIS, have claimed previous attacks.

Timothy Kaldas, a professor at Nile University in Cairo, told Al Jazeera the attack “fits the pattern of ISIS attacks”.

“Potentially, it’s another attack against Sufis in northern Sinai. Potentially, it’s retaliation for tribes co-operating with the state in the crackdown on ISIS,” he said.

The Sinai Peninsula has been the scene of attacks for years, as Egypt has been battling an armed anti-government campaign in the rugged and thinly populated region.

The conflict ignited in 2013, after Egypt’s military overthrew Mohamed Morsi, the first democratically elected president of Egypt after the Arab Spring. With the overthrow of Morsi, forces in the Sinai Peninsula rose up and started attacking Egyptian security forces.

Over the years, most attacks were targeted at soldiers and police, but civilians have been killed before as well. Hundreds of people have died in the conflict so far.

In 2014, President Sisi declared a state of emergency in the peninsula, after a suicide bomber killed 33 soldiers. He described the region as a “nesting ground for terrorism and terrorists”.

During the last couple of months of 2017, a number of attacks have taken place, with six security forces killed in October and 18 in September.

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