Over 230 people killed in attack upon mosque

This photo released by Egypt's Presidency shows Abdel-Fattah El-Sissi, center, meeting with officials in Cairo after militants attacked a crowded mosque during Friday prayers
This photo released by Egypt's Presidency shows Abdel-Fattah El-Sissi, center, meeting with officials in Cairo after militants attacked a crowded mosque during Friday prayers

Militants attacked a crowded mosque with explosives and gunfire during Friday prayers in Egypt, killing more than 230 people in the country’s deadliest attack by Islamists.

The attack targeted a mosque frequented by Sufis, members of Islam’s mystical movement, in the north Sinai town of Bir al-Abd.

Militants, including the local affiliate of the Islamic State group, consider Sufis heretics because of their less literal interpretations of the faith.

The startling bloodshed, which also wounded at least 109, was the latest sign of how more than three years of fighting in Sinai has been unable to crush the IS affiliates.

In the past year they have bombed churches in Cairo and other cities, killing dozens of Christians. They are also believed to have been behind the 2016 downing of a Russian jet that killed 226 people.

But this was the first major militant attack on a mosque, and it eclipsed any past attacks of its kind, even dating back to a previous Islamic militant insurgency in the 1990s.

The militants opened fire from four off-road vehicles on hundreds of worshippers attending a sermon in the mosque.

They also blocked off escape routes from the area by blowing up cars, three police officers on the scene said.

Dozens of bodies wrapped up in sheets were laid across the mosque floor, according to images circulating online.

Resident Ashraf el-Hefny said many of the victims were workers at a nearby salt factory who had come for a Friday service at the mosque.

Egypt declared three days of mourning, as president Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi convened a high-level meeting of security officials.

No-one immediately claimed responsibility. But IS has targeted Sufis several times in the area in the past, notably beheading a leading Sufi figure, the blind sheikh Suleiman Abu Heraz, last year and posting photos online.