Egyptians shocked, defiant after Sinai mosque attack
Cairo- Since the worst terrorist incident in Egypt’s modern history, Egyptians united to condemn the attack on a Sinai mosque but acknowledged fears about the future.
More than 74 Sinai tribes announced their intention to track down those responsible for the attack on al-Rawda mosque in Bir al- Abed in northern Sinai on November 24, which resulted in the death of more than 300 people.
“We will trade blood for blood, terrorism for terrorism,” said Sheikh Abdel Monem Rifai, a spokesman for the self-styled Union of Sinai Tribes. “We will use all means at our disposal to back the army in its war against the terrorists.”
A statement from the Union of Sinai Tribes called for “revenge” against the suspected Islamic State (ISIS) militants responsible for the attack, signalling a turning point in Egypt’s war on terrorism in the Sinai Peninsula.
The Egyptian military had previously secured unilateral agreements and alliances with various Sinai tribes, most prominently the powerful Tarabin Bedouin tribe, to fight extremists in North Sinai. The Union of Sinai Tribes’ statement is considered a major shift in the fragile alliance between the Egyptian state and Sinai’s tribes.
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi ordered the military to use “all force necessary” to secure the Sinai Peninsula within the next three months.
Egypt launched air strikes against targets in North Sinai after the mosque attack. However, the government’s military-focused solution to the deteriorating situation in the Sinai Peninsula has failed to yield dividends, with many calling on Cairo to instead pursue a broader multifaceted response against terrorism.
Although there has been no official claim of responsibility for the attack, many observers — including the Union of Sinai Tribes — named ISIS as responsible. ISIS in Sinai, unlike many al-Qaeda groups in the peninsula, is not thought to have a large contingency of local fighters.
Witnesses said the attackers wore military uniforms, had long hair and waved the black flag of ISIS.
Analysts said that the attack on the mosque could serve as a rallying call against terrorists. ISIS had reportedly warned the people of Bir al-Abed and al-Rawda mosque, which had a large Sufi congregation.
Sufis across Egypt expressed concern that the attack could be the start of a terror campaign against their sect.
“ISIS only wants to sow the seeds of sedition among Egyptians,” said Abdel Hadi al-Qasabi, the head of the Supreme Council for Sufi Orders, “but the attacks of these terrorists will only make us stronger.”
There are millions of Egyptian Sufis. Mawlid an-Nabawi, the observance of the Prophet Mohammad’s birthday, is a traditional time of celebration for Egyptians, particularly Sufis. However, celebrations were curtailed after al-Rawda attack.
Qasabi and other Sufi officials called on Egyptian authorities to tighten security as Mawlid an-Nabawi celebrations approached.
Security analysts expressed concerns that al-Rawda attack was a watershed moment and that terrorists would focus on other soft targets, including public transport.
“This is why it is important that each and every one of us cooperate with security agencies to prevent these terrorists from making successes,” said retired army General Magdi Shehata. “The terrorists targeted the Christians in the past. Now they are targeting the Sufis and tomorrow they will target other Egyptians.”
In the fall of 2016, ISIS-affiliated extremists released images purporting to show the execution of a Sufi leader from Sinai who was reportedly about 100 years old. They accused the cleric of practising witchcraft. ISIS has killed tribe members in the area, accusing them of collaborating with the army.
The tribes pledged to set differences aside and offer greater cooperation with the military against ISIS. A large number of armed tribe members have been deployed along mountainous routes used by ISIS in attacks on army and police posts.
Sinai tribes make up almost one-quarter of North Sinai’s population of 400,000. They are in continual contact with the army in Sinai to make it harder for ISIS fighters to get around the mountainous province.
“There will also be a member of the tribes inside each army armoured vehicle to lead the troops to the places where the terrorists are hiding,” Rifai said. “This is our war and we will not rest until Sinai is free of these terrorists.”