Family members of the injured people in the mosque attack wait outside a hospital in Ismailia,Egypt, on Nov. 25, 2017. The death toll in a terrorist attack on a mosque on Friday in Egypt's North Sinai has risen to 305. (Xinhua/Zhao Dingzhe)
CAIRO, Nov. 25 (Xinhua) -- The terrorists in Egypt, particularly in North Sinai, seek to prove their strong existence by expanding terror attack targets to vast Muslims, said Egyptian political experts.
At noon on Friday, when Muslims gathered at mosques for massive weekly prayers, a bomb and gunfire attack against a mosque in a small village in North Sinai killed at least 305 worshippers, including children, and injured over 100 others.
The attack is the first against Muslim worshippers at a mosque in Egypt and the deadliest in the country's modern history.
Although no group has yet claimed responsibility for the attack, it is widely expected to have been carried out by a group self-styled as "Sinai State" or "Sinai Province," a Sinai-based group affiliated with the Islamic State (IS) regional terrorist group, which claimed responsibility for the largest terrorist operations in the country over the past few years.
"The mosque belongs to mystical Sufi branch of Sunni Islam, whose followers are considered heretics by the IS, unlike al-Qaida-aligned group that has recently appeared in Egypt and forcused on targeting security men," said Mohamed Gomaa, researcher at the Arab and Regional Unit of Cairo-based Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies.
Gomaa was referring to the two-day confrontations that started on Oct. 20 near Al-Wahat highway on the outskirts of Giza in southern Cairo, and left 16 policemen dead and 13 wounded, in addition to one kidnapped but freed later by security forces.
Later security raids on the nearby mountainous areas around the Western Desert left 15 militants dead and finally caught alive a Libyan runaway, who confessed that his group carrying out the anti-police attack was inspired by Al-Qaeda's beliefs.
On Saturday, the Egyptian Prosecution said in a statement that the Sinai mosque attack was carried out by nearly 30 militants in camouflage who bore the IS black banner.
"The mosque attack may reflect an attempt of the IS branch in North Sinai to place itself on the world's map to attract financial support as well as loyalists from fleeing IS members amid the group's defeat in Syria and Iraq," Gomaa told Xinhua, noting that the Sinai-based IS branch is facing pressures from security raids and the appearance of an al-Qaida-inspired group.
Terror attacks started to rise in Egypt following the military ouster of former Islamist President Mohamed Morsi in July 2013 in response to mass protests against his one-year rule and his currently outlawed Muslim Brotherhood group.
Since then, most of the attacks had focused on North Sinai's cities of Arish, Rafah and Sheikh Zuweid and killed hundreds of policemen and soldiers, before starting later to extend to other provinces and target the Coptic minority in their churches and now the Muslim worshipers at a mosque for the first time.
Gomaa explained that the intensified security campaigns in northeastern Sinai and the tight security grip on the borders with Gaza might have forced the IS-affiliates to move their operations from North Sinai's traditional cities of Arish, Rafah and Sheikh Zuweid southward to a small village in Bir al-Abed town.
"Perhaps we could say that targeting mosques represents a new strategy of terrorists in Egypt through which they declare the expansion of their targets to include Muslim worshipers during Friday massive prayers," said the Egyptian researcher.
Hassan Nafaa, a political science professor at Cairo University, believes that the bloody mosque attack, although none has claimed responsibility, will fuel Egyptians' hatred and rejection of militant groups in the country, even including those who oppose the regime most.
"This crime, undoubtedly, is a further proof that everyone has become a terror target, regardless of their religions," Nafaa told Xinhua, adding that it does not matter which terrorist group may claim responsibility for it because they are all the same and they all deserve obliteration.
He stressed that the Egyptian society is certainly aware that terrorism and its groups pose the biggest danger to them and their future, and whether they support the regime or not they definitely reject such terror activities.
"Through the tragic mosque attack, the militant groups want to prove powerful enough to hit anytime anywhere in order to spread horror nationwide and undermine the government, but this is a failed strategy that will bring them opposite results of popular anger, hatred and rejection," Nafaa noted.