North Sinai, Egypt — An explosion went off Friday, followed by bouts of gunfire, in what is being reported at the deadliest terrorist attack on civilians in the Egypt. The death toll has surpassed 230, and over 100 people have been injured. The attack happened at a Sufi Mosque and according to Reuters, a bomb went off while 40 gunmen took positions and engaged the civilians fleeing the scene. They were also firing upon ambulances as they approached.
Attacks of this nature take an immense amount of planning, coordination and resources. Not only did they have to build, smuggle and detonate an explosive inside the mosque, they also had to gather, arm and organize 40 gunman to carry out the follow-up attack. This would take a well-established terrorist network of some kind, though a specific terror group has yet to claim responsibility.
The primary terror groups operating throughout Egypt are al-Qaeda in Sinai Peninsula (AQSP), Ansar al-Sharia and Ansar Bait al-Maqdis ISIL. Historically speaking, the Sinai Peninsula has long been plagued with violence as clashes between terrorist organizations and Egyptian security forces have continued to escalate.
Al-Qaeda has had a particularly strong foothold in the area and have a number of organizations operating under their purview. According to SOFREP’s “Jay,” these include: “Ansar al-Jihad in the Sinai Peninsula, Egyptian Islamic Jihad, Jamaat al-Murabiteen, Muhammad Jamal Network, Nasr City Cell, Jund al-Islam, and the military faction of al-Jama’a al-Islamiyya.” AQSP has approximately 6-7000 fighters in their ranks and are run by Ramzi Mowafi and Mohammed Eid Muslih Hamad.
Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), specifically Ansar Bait al-Maqdis, has also claimed attacks in the area, though their conflicts have generally been against Egyptian security forces instead of blatant, all-out assaults on civilian populations in this area of Egypt (though it has happened). ISIL has also more frequently targeted Christian churches than mosques in the past. They claim around 1-2000 fighters in their ranks.
As time goes it is likely that one of these groups will claim such a devastating hit on the relatively small town’s mosque.
As mentioned before, the mosque is a Sufi place of worship, which can be a source of conflict among Muslim populations. The Sufi sect of Islam is sometimes considered heretical–depending on the part of the world–as they are a “mystic” part of the Muslim religion. Aid workers often consider the Sufis to be more open-minded and thoughtful, though others do not see it as such.
It is unclear at this time whether or not the fact that it was a Sufi mosque is what made it a target, or if there was some other reason. SOFREP will continue to monitor the situation and give timely updates.
Featured image: An armed Egyptian security personnel escorts an ambulance in March | AP Photo/Amr Nabil