Egypt's president vows to avenge mosque attack victims as death toll rises

25 November 2017, 10:43

The number of people known to have died in a gun and bomb attack on a mosque in Egypt has risen to more than 300, state media had said.

The death toll is now at 305, including 27 children, the MENA news agency reported.

It was one of the world's worst attacks since the 9/11 atrocities in the US 16 years ago.

A total of 128 people were wounded in Friday's assault, believed to have been carried out by Islamic State-linked insurgents.

A bomb exploded in the al Rawdah mosque in Bir al Abed, North Sinai, and then dozens of militants sprayed bullets into the crowds of people who ran outside to escape.

The gunmen were carrying IS flags, Nabil Sadeq, Egypt's chief prosecutor said in a statement.

Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi said the attack "will not go unpunished" and vowed to "respond with brutal force."

"The army and police will avenge our martyrs and return security and stability with force in the coming short period," he said in a televised speech.

Sheikh Ahmed el-Tayeb, the grand imam of Cairo's Al-Azhar, Egypt's highest institution of Sunni Islam, condemned "in the strongest terms this barbaric terrorist attack".

:: Egypt attack: Why were Sufis targeted?

On Saturday morning the military said it carried out airstrikes in Sinai which hit several vehicles used in the attack and "terrorist" locations where weapons and ammunition were stocked, an army spokesman said.

Revealing more about the mosque attack, Mr Sadeq said there were between 25 and 30 gunmen who arrived at the mosque in five all-terrain vehicles.

The militants positioned themselves at the mosque's main door and 12 windows before opening fire on worshippers inside, he added.

They also set fire to seven cars belonging to worshippers to block roads.

Nobody has claimed responsibility for the attack which is the deadliest in Egypt's modern history.

Al Rawdah mosque was largely attended by Sufi Muslims, a strand of Islam which militants consider heretic.

On Saturday President el-Sissi declared three days of mourning and said a mausoleum will be constructed in memory of those killed in the attack.

The wounded were taken for treatment in the city of Ismailia near the Suez Canal.

Funerals for some of those killed were due to be held on Saturday.

Witnesses have spoken of the horror attack which happened over about 20 minutes.

Mansour, 38, was shot twice in his leg.

"Everyone lay down on the floor and kept their heads down. If you raised your head you got shot," the salt factory worker said.

"The shooting was random and hysterical at the beginning and then became more deliberate. Whoever they weren't sure was dead or still breathing was shot dead."

He added the militants were shouting Allahu Akbar - God is Great.

"I knew I was injured but I was in a situation that was much scarier than being wounded. I was only seconds away from a certain death."

A 38-year-old government employee, who did not want to be named for fear of retaliation, said many worshippers jumped out of windows.

He said: "The small door that leads to the corridor for the washrooms was about the only one where worshippers rushed to escape.

"There was a stampede. I fell down and then bodies piled up on top of me. I was the only one alive underneath.

"The shooting was heavy, insane and random. These are not terrorists. These are not humans."

Magdy Rizk was among those wounded in the attack and said local residents had previously received threats from extremist groups.

He said: "They were wearing masks and military uniforms."

IS militants in Egypt have killed hundreds of police officers and soldiers in North Sinai.

The group usually targets Christians, killing more than 100 followers in church bombings and shootings across Egypt.

They have recently started targeting worshippers of the Sufi branch of Sunni Islam and Bedouin Sinais accused of working with the army.

The extremist group claimed responsibility for the bombing of a Russian plane which had just taken off from the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh in October, 2015, killing all 224 people on board.