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Egypt mosque attack toll rises 305, ‘attackers carry IS flag’

IANS | Cairo |

The death toll in a terrorist attack on a mosque on Friday in Egypt’s North Sinai has risen to 305 killed, including 27 children, and 128 others were wounded, state news agency MENA reported on Saturday.

“The attackers of the mosque were carrying the Islamic State flag,” MENA quoted the statement of the country’s general prosecutor as saying.

“Some 25-30 militants have gunned down the worshippers while performing the Friday prayer,” it added.

The attack took place after the mosque’s preacher started his speech, when the terrorists threw bombs from the windows and doors of the mosque, besieging the worshippers inside, the statement said.

Later, some masked men, carrying black flags reading “There is no God but Allah and Mohammed is his prophet,” broke into the mosque with automatic weapons, it added.

Long queues of the victims’ relatives were laid on the ground, some covered with blankets, outside the Suez Canal Hospital in Ismailia.

“My 23-years old nephew, Amir, who was working as a nurse has passed away in the attack,” said Samy Mohammed, who came from Delta Menoufia province to get the license of burying Amir said.

The father of Amir, Magdy, a 45 year-old teacher has also wounded in the attack by three bullets, two in his leg and one in his right arm, Mohammed told Xinhua.

“I couldn’t get the body of Amir and he was buried in collective graves with the others,” he said while weeping.

But Mohammed was waiting to ensure the status of the father who underwent some surgeries.

The father, Magdy said the terrorists for the first time attacked mosque because they failed to cause rift between the Copt and Muslims and also found difficulties in targeting more security men.

President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi instructed the Armed Forces to set up a memorial for the victims who lost their lives in al Rawda mosque terrorist attack, official sources told MENA on Saturday.

The case would be tackled as “a top emergency case of state security,” MENA added.

The attackers were riding five jeeps and they set seven cars of the worshippers ablaze before fleeing.

Some of the worshippers were Sufis, members of Islam’s mystical movement, whom groups such as the IS consider as “infidels.”

Local militant group Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, once allied to al-Qaeda, split from it and declared allegiance to the IS in 2014.

Sufis have been a target of Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis who burnt one of their shrines in 2013.

Also the IS affiliate in Sinai has beheaded a 98-year-old man who was considered as the Sufist’s spiritual leader in North Sina in November 2016.

No group has declared responsibility for the al Rawda attack yet.

North Sinai province, a mostly desert area bordering Israel and the Palestinian Gaza Strip, has been experiencing waves of anti-security attacks that killed hundreds of police and army men since the army-led ouster of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in 2013 in response to mass protests against his rule.

Now they started to target the Muslim worshipers at mosque for the first time, which is an unprecedented development in terrorist tactics in the country, according to security experts.

The law enforcement forces continued their operations to hunt down elements involved in the brutal terrorist attack that targeted worshipers, the Armed Forces said in a Saturday statement.

According to intelligence information and in cooperation with Sinai residents, the Air Force has destroyed over the past hours several hotbeds used by terrorists as bases to launch their attacks, it added.

The hotbeds included firearms, ammunition and explosives, read the statement.

Egyptian president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi vowed on Friday a “fierce action” against attackers.

Egypt’s military said they had carried out airstrikes and raids overnight against militants held responsible for the killings, the bloodiest attack in Egypt’s modern history.

The Interior Ministry declared a state of high alert nationwide.