The tentacles of ISIS will prove as difficult to destroy as the terror state’s grip on Mosul and Raqqa. The affiliate in the Sinai Peninsula staged a brutal attack on a Sufi mosque in El-Arish, killing at least 184 people and wounding another 120. The death toll has been rising all day as Egyptian officials try to sort out the carnage:
The death toll in the Sinai mosque attack continues to rise, with now at least 184 dead and an additional 125 injured, according to state-run media. @ianjameslee with the latest: https://t.co/IxAIJeERdO pic.twitter.com/Dg1lrGreCz
— CNN (@CNN) November 24, 2017
— ABC News (@ABC) November 24, 2017
At least 184 people have been killed after a gun and bomb terror attack at a packed mosque in Egypt‘s North Sinai province today.
Another 125 people are reported to have been injured, making the attack one of the worst in recent memory.
The terrorists reportedly detonated a bomb before firing on fleeing worshippers while blocking escape routes with burnt-out cars.
The suspected Islamic State attack took place at the Al-Rawdah mosque in Bir al-Abed, near El-Arish, during Friday prayers.
The choice of targets signals a shift in strategy for the Sinai affiliate, which had mainly focused its attacks on Egypt’s security services:
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 ISIS considers government spies or religious heretics are not uncommon.
In September, ISIS militants , killing 18 police and wounding seven others in one of the deadliest attacks this year in the restive region bordering Israel and the Gaza Strip.
The ongoing violence in Sinai shows the resilience of the militants there in the face of aby the military and police, which between them command far superior firepower, air support, heavy armor and larger numbers.
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.
According to reports, the terrorists coordinated the attack on off-road vehicles, first bombing the mosque and then shooting the survivors. From these early reports, it was not a suicide attack or an ad-hoc extemporaneous choice. ISIS targeted this mosque and then plotted to kill as many of the people within it as possible.
Why target a Sufi mosque? Sufis are generally less temporal in their practice of Islam, and less political. In the last century, the Sufi practice has been eclipsed and marginalized by the emergence of Salafism and Wahhabism, strains which have produced ISIS and other terrorist groups. ISIS wouldn’t find many recruits among the Sufis, but presumably not too many existential threats either. The only rational motive would be to ensure that ISIS has no competitors in the practice of Islam within its territory so that it can impose its own insanity on Sinai residents, but even that seems like an odd choice of priorities when the Egyptian military is waging a war to wipe out ISIS. Perhaps ISIS thought the mosque was cooperating with the authorities?
The assault will almost certainly backfire on ISIS. There may be some popular unrest against Egyptian president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in the Sinai, but the slaughter of Sufis at prayer in a mosque will sever ISIS from that popular sentiment. We can hope that this exposure of their true nature will marginalize them even more and accelerate their destruction, in Egypt and elsewhere.
Update: Still going up:
BREAKING: Egyptian state news agency says death toll in Sinai mosque attack rises to 200, with 130 wounded.
— The Associated Press (@AP) November 24, 2017
Update: The death toll continues to rise. Just ten minutes later, AFP reports that Egyptian state television has raised it to 235 killed. Presumably, security services are still trying to find where all the bodies might be.
Update: Trump called it “horrible and cowardly” in his first response to the attack:
Horrible and cowardly terrorist attack on innocent and defenseless worshipers in Egypt. The world cannot tolerate terrorism, we must defeat them militarily and discredit the extremist ideology that forms the basis of their existence!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 24, 2017
True on all counts.