BY MOZZIMAL HUSSAIN, Revolution Observer
Considerable confusion and scepticism surround the official version of the events of the 24th of November 2017. What is clear is that the al-Rawda mosque located in the northern portion of the Sinai peninsula was attacked by roughly 40 gunmen during Friday congregational prayers. It is also clear that the assailants who arrived in four or five pickups seemed, from the accounts of local residents, intent on maximizing the causalities of this attack.
Prior to the attack they took firing positions at the main gate of the “sufi “mosque and in its 12 windows as the imam was about to deliver his Friday sermon. They then they set off explosives and sprayed hundreds of worshipers inside with bullets. They also blocked access to the mosque by torching several cars belonging to worshipers and also opened fire on ambulances as they arrived at the scene and after the initial round of killing, the assailants methodically checked their victims for signs of life and shot anyone who was breathing. Official figures put the casualties at 305 of whom 27 were children with a further 128 people wounded many of whom are in a critical condition.
Although no one has claimed responsibility for this attack and in the absence of any credible witnesses to support this claim, Nabil Sadeq Egypt’s chief prosecutor stated that at least one of the assailants was brandishing a black flag inscribed with the declaration of the Muslim faith — “There is no god but God and Muhammad is his prophet” — like those carried by ISIS ( although it is pertinent to point out that the ISIS flag actually consists of the seal of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ rather than the declaration of faith). Rather than being an isolated incident this horrific attack comes in the context of a growing urban insurgency against President Sisi’s regime, but is made notable by the fact that the targeting of a mosque would be a significant departure from the current operational tactics of all the groups operating in the Sinai peninsula and the wider area.
The various groups in the Sinai have usually targeted military and other security forces rather than civilian targets. In fact the Hasm movement which is a growing urban guerrilla movement has been noted for its judicious use of explosives and targeted assassinations specifically designed to avoid civilian casualties. Hence we find that Jund al-Islam a Sinai based militant organisation and the much more widespread Hasm movement have declared themselves innocent of this particular attack. These groups have no interest in making enemies of the very people they are trying to recruit to their cause.
The security situation for the Egyptian regime faces significant difficulties. The economic demographic and political situation in Egypt is fertile ground for insurgencies to take root and prosper. Added to this is the antipathy with which the security forces especially the police and those working under the control of the interior ministry are viewed. The death of ranking policeman or security officials is cause for celebration for a significant number of Egyptians. The state of affairs in terms of security can be summed up by the October 2017 death of 54 police officers who were lured, ambushed and then executed by militants in Giza, situated just southwest to the capital. This was the first time that a conflict that had largely been confined to the Sinai Peninsula came close to the heart of the capital.
There is no certainty of who carried out this attack as there are many including Sisi’s regime who benefit immensely. Was it ISIS militants to whom the practices of Sufi’s constitute apostasy and blasphemy, who are locked in a battle of supremacy with other takfiri groups for like minded recruits or was it a desperate act from the regime seeking to bolster its position in the context of intractable economic, demographic and international situations that will see its eventual downfall.
The difference may be academic to the average Egyptian who finds it hard to believe that five all terrain vehicles loaded with heavily armed militants waving black flags could traverse one of the most Egypt’s most heavily militarised areas without being challenged; for them, ISIS and the Egyptian regime are seen as one of the same thing. When asked his opinion one of Cairo’s many street vendors replied: “We don’t know who is really doing this. But I think Islamic State is actually people in the police themselves. Who else can do this?”
وَمَنْ يَقْتُلْ مُؤْمِنًا مُتَعَمِّدًا فَجَزَاؤُهُ جَهَنَّمُ خَالِدًا فِيهَا وَغَضِبَ اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَلَعَنَهُ وَأَعَدَّ لَهُ عَذَابًا عَظِيمًا
“As for anyone who kills a believer deliberately, his repayment is Hell, remaining in it for ever. Allah is angry with him and has cursed him, and has prepared for him a terrible punishment.”