Armed militants raise Islamic State flag during Rawda attack: General prosecutor

An estimated 25 to 30 armed militants raised the Islamic State flag during the attack targeting the Rawda mosque in North Sinai on Friday afternoon. The assailants surrounded the mosque and shot at people trying to escape the attack through 12 different windows, according to a statement issued by the public prosecutor earlier on Saturday.

According to eyewitness accounts on Friday, the militants were parked in cars at a distance from the mosque’s exit. The prosecutor’s Saturday statement added that the attackers wore outfits resembling military uniforms and used five 4×4 vehicles.

No group has claimed responsibility for the attack yet.

The death toll from the Rawda attack rose to 305 on Friday night, including 27 children, with 128 reported as injured, according to the statement. Two previous statements, both issued by the public prosecutor on Friday, had reported that 235 people had been killed dead and 109 injured. The Ismailia prosecution was also assigned to hear the witness accounts of those injured who have been checked into the Ismailia Hospital for treatment.

A security source told Sky News on Friday night that two drones destroyed two vehicles in the Risha desert area close to Rawda that were alleged to be carrying militants, killing 15 of them. Security sources have stated that over 20 gunmen were involved in the attack, according to the privately owned newspaper Al-Masry Al-Youm.

The Armed Forces spokesperson corroborated these reports in a statement issued on Saturday, adding that the airstrikes conducted targeted armed militant locations after local residents reported them to military intelligence.

The military operations resulted in the “elimination of several strongholds which terrorist militants use as their base for launching their attacks,” read the statement. The Armed Forces also published a video depicting the airstrikes on those targeted locations.

Responses to the attack

In the meantime, the Muslim Brotherhood condemned the attack, referring to it as an act of terror, according to a statement released on their website on Friday.

Armed militant group and suspected Muslim Brotherhood-affiliate Hassm has also denied any responsibility for the attack and offered their condolences to the Egyptian people, according to a statement released on their Telegram broadcasting channel on Saturday.

Another armed militant group, Jund al-Islam, condemned what it called “the Friday massacre in North Sinai,” according to a statement circulating on social media platforms.

Since Friday, several statements from international and Arab organizations were released condemning the attack and offering support to Egypt. Among them was a statement by United Nations Secretary General António Guterres, who called “for those responsible for today’s horrific attack to be swiftly brought to justice.”

The UN Security Council has also offered condolences to families of victims and condemned the attack. The UNSC statement also asserted “that terrorism in all its forms and manifestations constitutes one of the most serious threats to international peace and security.”

US President Donald Trump has also voiced his support for Egypt “in the face of terrorism,” after offering his condolences to Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. 

The German foreign minister has also condemned the attack, asserting in a statement that Germany stands with Egypt.

Following the attack on Friday, Sisi presided over a closed meeting attended by the defense and interior ministers, as well as the heads of the general and military intelligence bodies, Egyptian state media reported.

Sisi ordered compensatory payments to be distributed to those injured and the families of those killed in the attack, with LE200,000 be paid to the family of each deceased victim and LE50,000 to everyone who sustained injuries. The Egyptian government also declared a three-day mourning period on Friday.

Rawda is home to the Jaririya Sufi order, one of the largest Sufi orders in North Sinai. The village’s mosque that was targeted on Friday is one of the main mosques affiliated with the order.

The order derives its name from Sheikh Eid Abu Jarir — the order’s founder — who hails from Sinai’s Sawarka tribe and the Jarira clan, which resides in the Bir al-Abd area.

The Province of Sinai, a militant group affiliated with the Islamic State, has previously threatened followers of Sufi orders in different areas of North Sinai, including Arish, Sheikh Zuwayed and villages west of Arish, where Bir al-Abd lies, demanding they stop certain rituals, including visiting Sufi shrines and performing zikr, a ceremony in which Sufi Muslims chant rhythmically in prayer.

In 2013, militants detonated an explosive device targeting the shrine of a Sufi sheikh in the Sinai village of Mazar, near Bir al-Abd where the Friday attack took place. In the same year, militants bombed another shrine in the Maghara area in central Sinai.

In 2016, Suleiman Abu Harraz and Aqtifan al-Mansoury, two prominent Sufi sheikhs, were kidnapped in North Sinai and were subsequently decapitated by the Province of Sinai, who referred to the sheikhs as priests in its statement claiming the execution.

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