Johannesburg – Egyptian President Abdel-Fatteh El Sisi has warned that over the next few days the Egyptian military “will take revenge with an iron fist” in response to an attack by suspected Islamic militants on a mosque west of the city of El Arish in the Sinai Peninsula which left 235 worshippers dead.
Sisi made his comments late on Friday in a televised address to the nation.
A further 109 worshippers were wounded in the combined gun and explosives attack as they attended Friday prayers at the Sufi Al Rawdah mosque in Bir Al Abed, to the west of of El Arish which is not far from the border with Gaza.
“The death toll is expected to rise past the official number of 235 dead as there a number of seriously injured people fighting for their lives,” Ayman Walash, the Egyptian press attaché at the Egyptian Embassy in Pretoria told the African News Agency (ANA).
In his address Sisi said the attacks were a reflection of desperation at Egypt’s successful efforts in combating terrorism and an effort by suspected Islamic State (IS)-affiliated jihadists to undermine Egyptian resolve and dent the will of the Egyptian military fighting terrorism.
“We will stand up and fight. Our will, will not be broken. This is a fight against evil. We will see whose side God is on. Long live Egypt,” added Sisi.
There has been speculation on social media that the attack on the Sufi mosque was a revenge attack on the Sawarka Bedouin tribe for their support of the Egyptian military in its war on terrorism.
But Walash told ANA that that was false as many of the Bedouin tribes in the Sinai were supporting the Egyptian military.
“There are many foreign fighters among the terrorists in the Sinai but there are also Egyptians fighting with what we suspect to be the IS-affiliated Beit El Makdisi group. Most of the attacks in the Sinai have been carried out by this group," Walash said.
“All these terrorists have one thing in common. They have lost the war in Syria and Iraq so are regrouping elsewhere to try and assert themselves,” added Walash.
The Egyptian army has been fighting an insurgency in the Sinai and on the mainland for years. In addition to targeting the military and government officials, the insurgents have also targeted the North African country’s Christian minority and other civilians.
The number of attacks spiked following the overthrow of the country’s first democratically elected government in 2012 under former President Mohamed Morsi who was overthrown by the military in 2013.