Scores more wounded when al-Rawdah mosque in north Sinai bombed and fleeing worshippers gunned down
Egypts military has responded with airstrikes directed at terrorist locations and vehicles after hundreds of people were killed in a bomb and gun assault on a mosque in the north of the country.
Egypts chief prosecutor, Nabil Sadeq, said the 305 people killed included 27 children, while a further 128 people were wounded in the attack on the Rawdah mosque in Bir al-Abed, north Sinai.
In the deadliest attack in the country in recent memory, a bomb ripped through the mosque as Friday prayers were finishing, before militants in four off-road vehicles approached.
Sadeq said the attack was carried out by 25 to 30 militants, who stationed themselves at the mosques main door and 12 windows before opening fire on worshippers inside.
More than 50 ambulances ferried casualties from the mosque, about 25 miles (40km) west of the city of Arish, to nearby hospitals. Pictures from the scene showed rows of bloodied victims inside the mosque.
No group has claimed responsibility for the attack, but it marks a major escalation in a region where for the past three years Egyptian security forces have battled an Islamic State insurgency that has killed hundreds of police and soldiers.
The Egyptian president, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, delivered a defiant television address on Friday evening, vowing to respond with brute force and offering condolences to the families of victims.
This act will only increase our will and unity, he said. The police and military will avenge our martyrs and restore peace and security.
He added: We will respond with brute force to combat these terrorists and deviants … This is an attempt to deter us from fighting terrorism and to destroy our will, but we are steadfast, and I say to all Egyptians, the battle you are fighting is the most honourable.
Hours after the attack, Egypts military launched airstrikes on targets in mountainous areas around Bir al-Abed, security sources and witnesses said. The targets were described as vehicles used in the attack and terrorist locations where weapons and ammunition were stocked.
Sisi, a former armed forces commander who presents himself as a bulwark against Islamist militants in the region, convened an emergency security meeting with his defence and interior ministers and intelligence chief after the attack and declared three days of mourning.
One witness, a shop owner from Bir al-Abed, said local people heard a massive blast followed by gunfire. When he arrived at the site of the attack he saw people rushing to pick up the bodies and to offer help to the injured. He said he saw at least 20 bodies wrapped in cloths and blankets.
One resident whose relatives were at the scene told Reuters that the attackers shot at people as they left the mosque, and also at the ambulances. The attackers had also set alight nearby vehicles to try to block routes away from the mosque.
The mosque belongs to a Sufi order a mystical branch of Islam whose followers are regarded by hardline Islamists as apostates because they revere saints and shrines.
An Isis propaganda outlet had previously published an interview with the commander of its morality police in Sinai who said their first priority was to combat the manifestations of polytheism including Sufism.
The attack came days before the annual celebrations of the prophet Muhammads birthday. Festivals are being held by Sufi-affiliated mosques around the country.
Another witness, a student who gave his name only as Mohamed, told the Guardian he had heard calls for help emanating from other nearby mosques after Fridays attack.
I went with my family and friends to the scene of the mosque and found ambulances loading bodies and injured, he said. What happened in al-Rawdah is a massacre against peaceful civilians.