Churches in Egypt tolled their bells at noon Saturday 25 November, in mourning for the 305 who lost their lives in a terror attack against a mosque in the village of Bir al-Abd some 40km west of Mediterranean town of al-Arish in North Sinai. Among the victims were 27 children who had been with their fathers at the mosque for noon prayers on Friday 24 November.
All Egypt’s Churches had issued statements condemning the terror attack, mourning the victims, and praying for recovery of the injured whose numbers reached some 126.
Health Minister Ahmad Emad Eddin Radi visited the injured at Cairo’s Nasser Institute hospital, together with acting Prime Minister Mustafa Madbouli. Dr Radi said that 150 ambulance vehicles had rushed to the scene of the terror attack. He said those with mild injuries were moved to the local hospitals in Bir al-Abd and al-Arish, where people lined up to donate blood, but those with severe injuries or those who required surgery were moved to Ismailiya hospital and to Cairo’s Nasser Institute and Dar al-Shifaa. He the Health Ministry had ensured all the necessary blood needed for transfusions, as well as all surgical utilities were available in ample supplies. Extra doctors were called in, he said, to deal with the emergency.
Early Friday evening, the date the terror attack took place, air strikes by Egypt’s Air Force started against the terrorists’ hideouts in North Sinai mountains.
On Saturday 25 November, The Egyptian Armed Forces posted to Facebook a video of its aircraft targeting terrorist spots in the area. The post read: “The law enforcement forces, basing on confirmed intelligence and in cooperation with Sinai residents, have continued to pursue the elements responsible for the brutal terrorist incident that struck worshippers in North Sinai. The Air Force has over the past hours eliminated a number of their outposts that held weapons, ammunition, explosives, and administrative utilities. The law enforcement forces, in cooperation with the Air Force, continue to carry out their operations and have established an intensive perimeter to scour the area around the event in search of the remaining terrorist elements.”
In a word televised to the nation yesterday, Friday, President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi had vowed to “respond with the utmost force” against the terrorists, identified by the prosecution as Islamic State (IS). Eyewitnesses said the attackers, some 25 armed men, had arrived at the scene in five off-road vehicles just as the noon sermon was about to start. They carried the black IS banners emblazoned with the Muslim testimony of “There is no god but Allah … Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah”. They spent about 20 minutes killing worshippers, and also torched seven cars parked outside that belonged to the worshippers, effectively cutting off escape routes and impeding the ambulance vehicles trying to get into Bir al-Abd.
Messages of condemnation of the attack and mourning the victims have flown in from all over the world, including the UN, US, and EU; as well as Egyptian and Coptic organisations in the Diaspora.
In Egypt, many celebrations and events were called off or postponed in keeping with the three-day national mourning. Among these events were public and private celebrations of Childhood Day, a UN event to mark the international day for battling violence against women and girls; also a celebration to mark 115 years on Egyptian Museum in Tahrir.
Reporting by Georgette Sadeq, Lucy Awad, Nader Shukry, Nevine Gadallah