Egyptian General Tawhed Tawfik, the head of the Egyptian delegation at the first Islamic Military Counter Terrorism Coalition (IMCTC) meeting in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, said Egypt is determined to fight terrorism, which he said is a cross-border threat that requires organised and comprehensive measures to counter, Egypt’s Al Ahram reports.
"Eradicating terrorism requires a comprehensive strategy to target all sources of financial and ideological support for terrorists, and not focus solely on the military aspect," said Tawfik on Sunday.
Stressing that counter-terrorism has become more complicated due to terrorist organisations’ increased capabilities and access to technology, Tawfik said that militant organisations had moved on from having political, social or economic goals to seeking the elimination of any trace of the nation state.
Tawfik’s comments followed in the wake of Friday’s devastating combined bombing and gun attack on the Sufi Al Rawdah mosque in Bir Al Abed, to the west of El Arish, in Egypt’s restive Sinai Peninsula.
“The death toll rose to 305, 27 of them children and almost 130 wounded,” the Egyptian Embassy in Pretoria’s press attaché, Ayman Walash, told the African News Agency (ANA) over the weekend.
This is the deadliest attack on civilians in Egypt’s modern history.
“Approximately 30 attackers waving Islamic State (IS) flags were involved. They had already planted explosives in the mosque and after these detonated the gunmen opened fire on the worshippers as they tried to flee the mosque. They also targeted ambulances trying to ferry the wounded away,” added Walash.
The Al Rawdah mosque is frequented by Sufis and is the local headquarters of the prominent Sufi sect, or tareeqah, founded by the local Al Jerir clan, a branch of the powerful Al Sawarkah Bedouin tribe.
The IS-affiliated Sinai Province, believed to be behind the bloody attack, accuse the Sawarkah of supporting the Egyptian military as it continues its fight against an Islamist insurgency, both in the Sinai and on the mainland.
Three weeks ago the villagers from Bir Al Abed allegedly handed over three suspected militants to security forces.
Reports have emerged that IS operatives had recently warned the tribe not to take part in Sufi rituals and to abandon the practice, in leaflets distributed to the tribe on several occasions.
Hard-core Islamists regard Sufism, which is a mystical movement of Islam, as heretical and the Sinai Province, formerly known as Ansar Beit Al Makdis, has ordered Sufis be put to death.
The latest warnings came as recently as a week ago when the villagers were ordered not to commemorate the birth of the Prophet Muhammad on November 28 and 29.
Earlier in the year, militants twice stormed the home of village tribal leader Sheikh Hussein Al Jerir, warning him not to hold Sufi gatherings.
Suleiman Abu Haraz, a 98-year-old spiritual leader of the Sufis in the Sinai was kidnapped from his El Arish home last year and beheaded.
There are believed to be up to 15 million Sufis in Egypt.
This is the first time that the jihadists have carried out a mass attack on fellow Muslims in Egypt, a practice common in Syria and Iraq.
However, Egypt’s Coptic Christians - estimated to be about 10 percent of the North African country’s 99 million people – have been regularly targeted by the Islamists, culminating in several large-scale attacks on their churches, leaving dozens dead and hundreds more injured.
The attacks appear to be not only motivated by revenge against those suspected of collaborating with Egyptian security forces, and a fundamentalist intolerance towards non-orthodox Muslims, but also losing popularity to fellow jihadists and rivals in the area, Al Qaeda.
When the IS was at the height of its strength with its self-proclaimed caliphate in large swathes of Syria and Iraq in 2014, Sinai Province attracted many recruits.
Now that it has lost almost all of its territory there, and with many Islamists reviled by the indiscriminate targeting of fellow Muslims - a practice outlawed by Al Qaeda - Sinai Province may be losing supporters.
“These terrorists are trying to regroup and assert themselves elsewhere following their losses in Syria and Iraq,” Walash told ANA.
- African News Agency (ANA)