EL-ARISH, Egypt (AP) — Militants bombed a Sufi mosque and fired on worshippers in the volatile Sinai Peninsula during Friday prayers, Egyptian officials said, killing at least 184 people in what appeared to be the latest attack by the area’s Islamic State affiliate.
The extremists attacked the al-Rawdah mosque in the town of Bir al-Abd, 40 km (25 miles) from the North Sinai provincial capital of el-Arish, opening fire from four off-road vehicles on worshippers inside during the sermon, three police officers said.
Victims were being transferred to local hospitals, they added, speaking on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to brief reporters. They said the IS militants had blocked escape routes from the area by blowing up cars and leaving the burning wrecks blocking the roads.
Egypt’s state news agency reported the casualty toll, citing “official sources,” revising it upward several times following the officials’ initial reports.
The attack was the largest single targeting of Egyptian civilians and the first on a large mosque congregation since the IS affiliate began its campaign of violence against the state following the military’s 2013 overthrow of an elected but divisive Islamist president.
MENA reported that Egypt’s presidency declared a three-day mourning period for the attack, as President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi convened a high-level meeting of security officials.
Cairo’s international airport boosted security following the attack, with more troopers and forces seen patrolling passenger halls, conducting searches and manning checkpoints at airport approaches.
Security forces have been battling militants in northern Sinai for years, but attacks to date have focused on military and police assets, although assassinations of individuals IS considers government spies or religious heretics are not uncommon.
Hundreds of soldiers and militants have been killed in the conflict, although exact numbers are unclear as journalists and independent investigators are banned from the area.
Egypt is also facing a growing number of attacks by militants in its Western Desert, including an attack last month that killed 16 police, according to an official tally issued by the Interior Ministry. Security officials have told journalists that dozens more, including high-ranking counterterrorism officers, perished in the Oct. 20 attack some 135 kilometers (84 miles) southwest of the capital, Cairo.
Rohan reported from Cairo