At least 27 children were among the 305 people killed during a terrorist rampage at a Sinai mosque on Friday, the Egyptian government said as it updated the grim toll of one of the bloodiest attacks since September 11th.
Egypt’s attorney general said that up to 30 gunmen had taken part in the slaughter and that they carried the black banners of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil) as they gunned down worshippers during Friday prayers.
Relatives of the victims told The Telegraph that some households in the village of Rawda had lost every single male member of their family. “There is no one in the village who didn’t lose at least one of his relatives,” said Mohammed Sleem, a university student who lost two cousins. .
No group has claimed responsibility for the attack but suspicion has fallen heavily on Isil’s Egyptian affiliate, known as Sinai Province, which has carried out deadly attacks against Egyptian troops and Christians in the area.
The Egyptian military carried out airstrikes in north Sinai in response to the killings but it was not clear if they were acting on specific intelligence or simply trying to make a show of force to reassure the public.
Investigators said Saturday they were still finding bodies in the toilets and other areas as they combed through the grounds of mosque.
The village of Rawda is home to around 2,500 people and with almost all of the men at the mosque for prayers nearly every home was in mourning on Saturday.
“Some women lost all their male family members,” said Abdel Qader Mubarak, a village elder. “One woman lost her husband and two sons, and another lost three of her sons.”
“There is no home in Rawda without a martyr. At least 100 families have at least one martyr or at minimum a wounded person,” he said.
Nabil Sadeq, the Egyptian prosecutor general, said that between 25 and 30 gunmen had arrived at the mosque on Friday in a convoy of SUVs and had taken up positions at the entrances and exits.
“[The worshippers] heard heavy gunfire outside the mosque and the sound of explosions followed by the entry of a number of people. Some were masked and others were unmasked with thick, vivid hair,” Mr Sadeq said.
“They were carrying machine guns and a flag that reads "There is no God but Allah, Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah” and wearing clothes similar to military uniforms,” he said. He officially raised the death toll from an initial count of 235 to 305.
Most of the men at the mosque were Sufis, adherents to a mystic tradition of Islam. Isil considers Sufis to be heretics and has threatened them often. “Your blood is filthy and permissible to shed,” a Sinai Province leader warned Sufis last year in an interview with the Isil magazine Rumiyah.
Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, Egypt’s president, said a mausoleum would be built to commemorate the victims of the worst terror attack in Egyptian history.
Egypt’s army released footage of what it said were airstrikes against terrorist outposts in Sinai, which destroyed “quantities of weapons, ammunition, explosive materials and administrative facilities”. Witnesses said the strikes targeted mountainous areas around Rawdah.
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The military has been battling against a bloody insurgency in the Sinai since 2011 but has so far been unable to defeat the jihadists or prevent a string of high-profile attacks.
Egypt’s government, which relies heavily on tourism, has been at pains to stress that most of the attacks have taken place in a limited area in north Sinai. “Egypt as a State, society and region is still, with its overwhelming majority, far from the hands of bloody terrorist groups,” the government’s information office said in a statement.
The Rafah crossing between Egypt and Gaza had been due to open on Saturday, providing a rare opportunity for the isolated people of Gaza to travel to the outside world. But the crossing remained closed in the wake of the attack and travellers were told to stay at home.