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Hundreds Killed In Terrorist Attack On Mosque In Egypt

Egypt Mosque Attack

Hundreds of people are dead, and hundreds injured, in a terror attack on a mosque on Egypt’s Sinai Coast:

CAIRO — Islamist militants detonated explosives and sprayed gunfire at a crowded Sufi mosque near Egypt’s Sinai coast on Friday, killing at least 235 people and wounding 109 more, in one of the deadliest attacks on civilians in the country’s modern history.

Attacks on mosques are rare in Egypt, where the Islamic State has targeted Coptic Christian churches and security officials in recent years. So the devastating attack on the mosque in Beer al-Abd, 125 miles northeast of Cairo, sent shock waves across the country.

“I can’t believe they attacked a mosque,” a Muslim cleric in the town said by phone. He requested anonymity for fear he could also be attacked.

Even by recent standards in Egypt, where militants have blown up Christian worshipers in church pews and gunned down pilgrims in buses, it was an unusually ruthless and deadly assault.

The attackers, who traveled in four-wheel-drive vehicles, exploded bombs inside the mosque, then sprayed worshipers with gunfire as they fled, state media reported. A military official said that a suicide bomber was involved in the attack.

The gunmen lingered at the scene even as emergency workers arrived to treat the injured, and opened fire on several ambulances, Ahmed el-Ansari, a senior government health official, said on state television.

Many of the wounded were rushed to the general hospital in the main town in Sinai, El Arish, where medics described chaotic scenes as staff struggled to deal with a flood of dead of injured.

“They pretty much have bullets in every part of their bodies,” said one medical official, speaking by phone, referring to gunshot victims. Others had extensive burns or lost limbs due to the explosion.

“We are swamped. We don’t know what to say. This is insane,” he said, asking not to be named out of fear he could be victimized by either the militants or the security forces.

The worshipers at the mosque were Sufi Muslims, who practice a mystical form of Islam that some orthodox Muslims and Sunni extremists consider heretical. The Islamic State had threatened and killed a number of Sufis in Bir al-Abd in recent months, but the group never targeted a place of worship, the cleric said.

President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi convened an emergency meeting of top security officials including the interior minister, spy chief and defense minister. He declared three days of mourning. Nabil Sadek, Egypt’s top prosecutor, ordered an investigation into the attack.

The Egyptian military, which has been battling a local affiliate of Islamic State in northern Sinai for years, declared a curfew in Bir al-Abed and El Arish. Violence in Sinai surged after 2013, when Mr. Sisi came to power in a military takeover that deposed the democratically elected president Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood.

(…)

In addition, Egyptian security forces have been closely monitoring returning Islamic State fighters from Syria and Iraq, amid worries that an influx of battle-hardened jihadis could inject a volatile new element into Egypt’s militant mix.

The bombing comes as the Egyptian authorities have been hoping to stem the tide of Islamist violence in Sinai, thanks to their sponsorship of a Palestinian peace initiative involving Hamas, the militant group that controls Gaza.

Islamic State militants have previously used tunnels into Gaza to source weapons and get medical treatment for wounded fighters. One benefit for Egypt of the peace initiative, which Egypt’s General Intelligence Directorate has mediated, is greater control over those tunnels.

The Egyptian security forces have been closely monitoring returning Islamic State fighters from Syria and Iraq, amid worries that an influx of battle-hardened jihadis could inject a volatile new element into Egypt’s militant mix.

As noted, this isn’t the first terror attack on the Sinai Peninsula. Ever since the revolt in Cairo that led to the overthrow of Egypt’s longtime dictator Hosni Mubarak, the Sinai has become something of a lawless regime notwithstanding the presence of both the Egyptian military and an international peacekeeping force that has been stationed there since the Camp David accords and the peace treaty between Israel and Egypt that led to Israel returning control of the Sinai to Egypt after having captured it during the 1967 war and held on to it in the Yom Kippur War in 1973. For the most part, the Sinai has been peaceful since then, or at least until recent years when terror groups have taken up residence in the area. Most recently, in 2015 a chartered Russian Airbus A321-200 with the call sign Metrojet 9268 taking mostly Russian and Ukrainian passengers home from vacations at the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh went down over the Sinai Peninsula, killing all 224 people on board. In the immediate aftermath of the incident, an ISIS-affiliated group based in the Sinai claimed that it had shot down the plane, but that claim was largely dismissed due to the fact that the plane was already at its cruising altitude of 31,000 feet at the time it went down. Subsequently, it was confirmed that the plane was brought down by a bomb that was apparently smuggled on the plane at the airport at Sharm el-Sheikh. Since then, the region has become the scene of other minor attacks and confrontations between the Egyptian military and militants, as well as attacks inside Egypt itself such as those against Coptic Christians.

In any case, there’s not much to say about what happened today. We’ve seen similar attacks on mosques all over the Middle East in the past, so it’s not surprising to see one in Egypt itself. At the very least, it demonstrates the reality of jihadist terrorism, which is that the worst victims have been Muslims in the Middle East rather than Americans and other westerners. Something that kinds of puts the lie to the idea that these people are acting in the name of Islam as people such as Pamela Geller, Ann Coulter, and Donald Trump would have you believe. That’s why rather than being our enemies, the world’s Muslims ought to be seen as our natural allies in the fight against jihadist terror.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. de stijl says:

    The worshipers at the mosque were Sufi Muslims, who practice a mystical form of Islam that some orthodox Muslims and Sunni extremists consider heretical.

    I assume this was the reason for the attack.

    At the very least, it demonstrates the reality of jihadist terrorism, which is that the worst victims have been Muslims in the Middle East rather than Americans and other westerners. Something that kinds of puts the lie to the idea that these people are acting in the name of Islam as people such as Pamela Geller, Ann Coulter, and Donald Trump would have you believe. That’s why rather than being our enemies, the world’s Muslims ought to be seen as our natural allies in the fight against jihadist terror

    .

    Well said and well worth repeating. We need to have a productive and well-intentioned diplomatic and information-sharing relationship with Arabs and Persians, Sunni, Shia and Sufi, Kurds and Turks, Jews and Muslims.

    If there were an active neo-Nazi terrorist group in Missouri, we would stupid and counter-productive to expel Missouri from the union and to cut all diplomatic ties with them. But, that is what we seem prone to do in the ME.

    (ME=Middle East, not Maine’s postal abbreviation, btw. We love you, Maine! Ummm, lobster rolls. You too, Missouri! Ummm, barbecue.)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 1

  2. Mister Bluster says:

    @de stijl:..If there were an active neo-Nazi terrorist group in Missouri, we would stupid and counter-productive to expel Missouri from the union and to cut all diplomatic ties with them.

    Southern Poverty Law Center identifies
    142 Active Neo-Nazi Groups in 45 of these United States we call home.
    AR CO HI KS NM do not appear on this register of shame.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 2

  3. de stijl says:

    @Mister Bluster:

    And yet we remain a union, and have not disassociated since 1861.

    No foolin’. This is a legitimate question.

    Given our harboring of domestic terrorist groups as you cite, under US law and praxis on how we designate some countries as terrorist states or as actors / agents of state terrorism against non-combatants, could the USA be considered a “terrorist state?”

    Initially, I think not because our home-grown terrorists seem to target Americans in America (or people living in America, citizenship status varies).

    Unless The Militia of The Republic Of Dave (UP Isle Royale Brigade) decides to pursue direct action in Thunder Bay, and we as a nation decided to not do everything we could to shut them down nor to work with Canada to eliminate them, could we be considered a terrorist state.

    We, as Americans, undoubtedly harbor domestic terrorists, but by definition, we are not technically a state sponsor of terrorism. The Arizona border patrol militias are most likely to cross that line and some of the border county sheriffs seem have a wink and handshake deal goin’ on with those wankers.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  4. Mister Bluster says:

    Arizona border patrol militias

    STOP CALLING THEM MILITIA!
    Wearing camouflage clothing and carrying firearms does not make a citizen a member of a militia under the United States Constitution.

    Our Great Charter establishes a Constitutional Militia.
    See Article I, Section 8, Paragraphs 15 and 16.
    The Congress has the power:
    To provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions;
    To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the Militia, and for governing such Part of them as may be employed in the Service of the United States, reserving to the States respectively, the Appointment of the Officers, and the Authority of training the Militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress;…
    See Article II, Section 2, Paragraph 1
    The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States, when called into the actual Service of the United States;
    See Amendment II
    A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.
    See Amendment V
    No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger;

    Are these citizens called forth by the Congress? NO
    Are these citizens organized, armed, disciplined or trained by the Congress or the States. NO
    Are these citizens called into the actual Service of the United States;. NO
    Are these citizens well regulated. NO
    The United States Constitution provides another definition.
    These citizens are insurrectionists.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 2

  5. Lounsbury says:

    @de stijl:
    as a point of order, Sufi is a worship style not a sect as such. Writing Sunni, Shia and Sufi is like writing Protestant, Catholic and Evangelical.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  6. de stijl says:

    @Mister Bluster:

    STOP CALLING THEM MILITIA!

    Do you realize that there is a distinction between “militia” and “Militia”.

    I purposefully did not capitalize militia. In this context, lower case militia means what it says.

    border patrol militias

    Seriously, you’ve been the umpteenth person to “correct” me on “militia” and its usage and definition.

    You puked up a knee-jerk reaction because you saw “militia” and thought, “Oh! I have a clever response for this.”

    Just stop. It’s not clever and it is incorrect. It is willfully obtuse.

    Pop quiz: what is the difference between an absorbent disposable paper tissue and a Kleenex?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  7. de stijl says:

    @Lounsbury:

    Thanks for the correction.

    My understanding of Sufi worship comes from fictional descriptions. And now that you’ve clued me, those descriptions were about the distinct nature of Sufi style of worship rather than the underlying theology.

    My exposure to Sufism was basically from Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars Trilogy books where the Sufis were the “cool” and reasonable Muslims. It was superficial and a Yoda expy, basically. Robinson’s Sufis were wise and mystical and vaguely inscrutable.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  8. de stijl says:

    @Mister Bluster:

    I was too harsh in tone in my response. I stand by the information and intent, but when I re-read my comment, I come off as dickish.

    Sorry for being a dick. You didn’t deserve it.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  9. Mister Bluster says:

    How many are umpteen?
    Maybe I should get to know them.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  10. Slugger says:

    These horrific events show the urgent need for the Egyptian people to find a way to achieve a governance without murderous factionalism while not being reliant on a suppressive dictatorial regime.
    I do wonder about any influences of outside parties in these events. We have seen actions by regional players and by distant world powers that have created instability and bloodshed in Egypt while the outside powers tried to increase their influence with cynical disregard for the people of Egypt. This goes back about two hundred years as I recall. Are outsiders involved? Who are they? ISIS has been named, but surely ISIS can’t act without arms and logistical support that only a state can provide.
    And please excuse me for putting on a tin foil hat for a moment. Our country’s position in Yemen concerns me. I hope we are not doing things to worsen the situation in Egypt.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  11. de stijl says:

    @Mister Bluster:

    Umpteen is one more than eleventieith.

    Thanks for being a mensch, after I was a dick to you earlier!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  12. Liberal Capitalist says:

    I liked it back when religion was ONLY the opiate of the masses.

    This whole religion is the automatic weapons of the masses thing is not working for me.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  13. Lounsbury says:

    @de stijl:
    It’s common enough. Some Sufi Tariqa diverge enough to be perhaps their own thing, but most are just a “charismatic” style of worship. The Tariqas / Orders do largely tend to be rather more liberal than the Salafist / Wahhabite, and of course the DAESH types hate them. There are even some Tariqas that cross over Sunni and Shia.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  14. Lounsbury says:

    @Slugger: Egypt creates its own instability.

    The dysfunctional heritage of the neo-Mamlouk military socialist system continues to make the economy under perform and the challenge by the politically blundering Brotherhood to the Military control of swaths of the economy is what provoked the coup.

    Given the Egyptian birth rates, the dysfunction economically and the fact of limited water, there’s the ongoing boiling of frustration. Since the non radical routes have been closed off, it’s naturally going to flow toward DAESH type. Just like it did in the 1990s for DAESH predecessor, Hijra wa Takfir.

    The economic pie is not getting bigger at the rate the population is increasing and the Neo Mamloukism sends the cream to the military and its associated client oligarchs. Now that some degree of marginal change is closed off with the failure of the Brotherhood government (who failed as much due to their political incompetence as outside machinations), it’s back to pressure cooker.

    The Sinai is a somewhat different case than the Nile valley, the Bebouine of the Sinai are ethnically-linguistically-culturally different than the Nile valley folks and have resented and been marginalized by the Nile folks for decades (if not centuries). That the DAESH put down roots in that soil is not entirely surprising.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  15. Bob The Arqubusier says:

    Could someone reconcile this:

    Something that kinds of puts the lie to the idea that these people are acting in the name of Islam as people such as Pamela Geller, Ann Coulter, and Donald Trump would have you believe. That’s why rather than being our enemies, the world’s Muslims ought to be seen as our natural allies in the fight against jihadist terror.

    With this:

    Attacks on mosques are rare in Egypt, where the Islamic State has targeted Coptic Christian churches and security officials in recent years. So the devastating attack on the mosque in Beer al-Abd, 125 miles northeast of Cairo, sent shock waves across the country.

    “I can’t believe they attacked a mosque,” a Muslim cleric in the town said by phone. He requested anonymity for fear he could also be attacked.

    Even by recent standards in Egypt, where militants have blown up Christian worshipers in church pews and gunned down pilgrims in buses, it was an unusually ruthless and deadly assault.

    These “natural allies” have had no problem with the Islamists slaughtering the Coptic Christians for years. But when they go after their fellow Muslims, that’s when it’s actually something worth noticing.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 1

  16. Tyrell says:

    “I can’t believe they attacked a mosque”
    Why not? ISIS will kill anyone.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  17. Slugger says:

    @Lounsbury: I read that the Cairo government is blaming Hamas and Hezbollah who have used the north-east corner of Sinai to smuggle weapons into Gaza. I have no idea whether this is credible. I wish someone would create a site that would list all of the conflicts in the Middle East with a breakdown of the sides both overt and occult. It would have to be updated frequently.
    I decry intramural bloodshed in Egypt. However, at least some of it is due to the influences of outsiders. The Brits favored the Islamists because they were thought to be manipulable. The Soviets favored Nasser for their reasons. The US has certainly intervened recently. Yes, the Egyptians must build their own country, but it must be said that powerful Western nations have undertaken policies that were not always pure.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

  18. Lounsbury says:

    @Slugger:
    Hezbullah?

    that’s bloody daft idiocy.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1