World View: Egypt’s Worst Terrorist Attack in Modern History Kills 235 People in Sufi Mosque

Security forces are fighting the Egyptian branch of the Islamic State group in the Sinai peninsula

This morning’s key headlines from

  • Egypt’s worst terrorist attack in modern history kills 235 people in Sufi mosque
  • Friday’s attack creates another roadblock for Hamas-Fatah unity
  • Friday’s attack is a major escalation in north Sinai terrorism

Egypt’s worst terrorist attack in modern history kills 235 people in Sufi mosque

Rescue personnel at the site of the bomb blast at Al-Rawda mosque in North Sinai. (Gulf News)
Rescue personnel at the site of the bomb blast at Al-Rawda mosque in North Sinai. (Gulf News)

At least 235 people were killed on Friday when terrorists stormed the Al-Rawda mosque in Bir al-Abed in Egypt’s Northern Sinai with explosives and gunfire with heavy weapons. This was the deadliest terror attack in Egypt’s modern history, the previous record having been set by a terror attack on July 23, 2005, on Egypt’s result city Sharm el-Sheikh, killing 88 people. The 2015 downing of Metrojet Flight 9268 killed all 224 passengers onboard, but investigation has not yet revealed the cause of the crash.

Egypt’s president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi promised revenge for these “vile and treacherous” attacks:

The army and police will avenge our martyrs and return security and stability with force in the coming short period.

On Friday afternoon a military operation was launched, targeting suspects in North Sinai. According to Egyptian media:

The response will be on the ground and will not stop until the elimination of everyone involved in the attack. We are taking our revenge now.

In 2014, al-Sisi declared a state of emergency in northern Sinai following a suicide bombing that killed 33 soldiers. He said at the time that “the war in Sinai will last for a long time, as there are a lot of terrorists hiding in the peninsula, but this new level of attacks has put us in a new level of planning too in order to combat the terrorism there.”

Since then, Egypt’s military has attacked in northern Sinai numerous targets suspected of being terrorists. Al-Sisi’s critics have called the attacks a “scorched earth policy” that has embittered the Bedouin tribes in northern Sinai and encouraged them to support the terrorist groups. Egyptian Streets and Al Ahram (Cairo) and Times of Israel and Al Jazeera

Related: Egypt in state of emergency after terrorist attack in Sinai (26-Oct-2014)

Friday’s attack creates another roadblock for Hamas-Fatah unity

When the above-mentioned terror attack occurred in 2014, it was a few weeks after the end of summer war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, and Egypt had mediated a truce that ended the war. One of the terms of the agreement is that the Rafah border crossing between Gaza and Egypt would be reopened, allowing people and goods to pass back and forth between Gaza and Egypt. After the terror attack, Egypt closed the Rafah border crossing again, and it’s been opened only sporadically since then.

On October 12 of this year, Egypt mediated a reconciliation and unity agreement between Hamas in Gaza and Fatah in the West Bank. The two Palestinian groups have been enemies since they were at war in 2008, and multiple attempts at reconciliation have failed.

The new agreement requires that the Rafah border crossing be opened permanently, with the crossing under control of Fatah rather than Hamas. The border crossing was opened for the first time last Saturday for three days.

It was scheduled to be opened again today (Saturday), but Egypt has reportedly said that the reopening will be delayed indefinitely. It’s already been unclear that the Hamas-Fatah unity government would succeed, because of a disagreement over whether Hamas must give up its weapons, but this terror attack creates one more roadblock. AFP

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Friday’s attack is a major escalation in north Sinai terrorism

No one has yet claimed credit for Friday’s attack on the Al-Rawda mosque, but it is believed that the perpetrators were the Bedouin-based Sinai terrorist group Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis (ABM – Ansar Jerusalem – Champions of Jerusalem), which changed its name to al-Wilayat Sinai (Province of Sinai) when it changed its allegiance in 2015 from al-Qaeda to the so-called Islamic State (IS or ISIS or ISIL or Daesh).

According to several analysts, this is a major escalation by ABM because it targets so many civilians and because it exhibits a skill level not seen before. A detailed explanation was given on al-Jazeera by Omar Ashour from Arab Center For Research And Policy Studies in Doha (my transcription):

[ABM is the] most powerful armed non-state actor in Egypt’s modern history. Capable of operating in a conventional special forces like way, capable of using light artillery, capable of using guided anti-tank missiles, using guided anti-aircraft missiles, and fighting partly in a conventional way, partly in a guerrilla warfare way, but also using a long campaign of urban terrorism.

So the tribal code here was violated: First time attack on a mosque, first time attack on Sufis.

Usually the indiscriminate attacks are targeting Copts [Coptic Christians], or targeting soldiers and officers from the army and the police, or sometimes targeting Israel.

But those other attacks are very very discriminatory, especially when it comes to informants. If there’s somebody who’s accused of being an informant, they target him. They try to avoid his family or his friends or the people around him.

The same thing applies to some of the militia tribesmen who fight along with the army. They target the specific groups of tribesmen, but they don’t attack the whole tribe.

So this is new, in terms of its lethality, and in terms of its indiscriminately targeting a large section of the society.

Other analysts have pointed out that the particular mosque that was targeted by terrorists on Friday was owned by a Bedouin tribe that had been cooperating with Egypt’s security forces. That would make Friday’s attack consistent with previous assaults, which had mainly targeted security forces and Egypt’s Christian minority. Gulf News and CNN

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KEYS: Generational Dynamics, Egypt, Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi, North Sinai, Al-Rawda, Sharm el-Sheikh, Ansar Jerusalem, Ansar Bayt al Maqdis, ABM, Champions of Jerusalem, Bedouins, Sinai Province, Al Wilayat Sinai, Gaza, West Bank, Hamas, Fatah, Rafah border crossing
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