CAIRO – As Egyptians try to recover from the massacre at a northern Sinai mosque that left 305 dead, the area’s tribal leaders swore blood-feud revenge on Sunday against those behind the coordinated attack.
No one has claimed responsibility for Friday’s bombing and assault, but Egyptian law enforcement officials believe the Islamic State-Sinai Province, a 6-year-old terror cell that swore allegiance to the Islamic State, was responsible.
“The massacre that was carried out against the residents of al-Rawdah village will turn into a burning fire that will eliminate (the Islamic State),” said Ibrahim Ergany, chief of the Union of Sinai Tribes, a group representing the three largest Bedouin clans in the territory.
In the days following Friday’s assault — the deadliest militant attack in modern Egyptian history — the military carried out airstrikes against hideouts used by terrorists believed to be behind the attack, the military said Sunday in a statement. The airstrikes destroyed hideouts containing weapons, ammunition and explosive material, and law enforcement personnel followed up by combing through the bombed-out areas.
Those strikes did little to heal the survivors of the attack, mostly Bedouin from the Sawarka tribe, a group that spiritually identifies with the mystical Sufi order of Muslim. The Islamic State views Sufis as heretics.
Witnesses said more than two dozen assailants descended on the mosque in five all-terrain vehicles. Gunmen detonated a bomb at the end of prayers and then opened fire as people tried to flee. The gunmen also fired on ambulances and set cars on fire to block roads, witnesses said.
“I found people piled on top of each other and they kept firing at anyone,” the mosque’s Imam Mohamed Abdel Fattah told Egyptian State TV from his hospital bed in Sharqiyah, 100 miles west of the massacre site. “They fired at anyone who breathed.”
“We received warnings about 10 days ago not to perform Sufi rituals, claiming that it is contrary to Islam,” said Ahmed Ghanem al-Jarirat, a village elder in al-Rawdah. “Before the attack, we never saw any violence in our village because we are peaceful.”
Since President Mohammed Morsi was deposed by a military coup in 2013, terrorists in Egypt had mostly targeted security forces and Coptic Christians. Friday’s mosque attack signaled that the country’s armed Islamists are changing tactics and selecting Muslims with different beliefs and rituals as their new targets.
Eyewitnesses said the assailants arrived carrying the black flag of the Islamic State, also known as ISIS — a sign that the Islamic State-Sinai Province was behind the attack.
On Sunday, most people were focused on caring for the 125 worshipers who were wounded and burying those who died. Islamic tradition dictates that the dead are buried within 24 hours, creating a busy scene throughout the desert city.
“The funerals reminded me of the massacre,” said Ahmed al Sawarki, 40, who survived the attack. “The victims were buried in the mass graves, each of them with about 80 bodies inside.”
Al Sawarki said his cousin, Mansour, was one of those killed, leaving behind his family with nobody to care for the women and children. “There is no one left in the house now, other than his wife and two handicapped sisters,” al Sawarki said.
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has vowed to respond to the terrorism with “brute force” and ordered the establishment of a monument to honor the victims of the mosque attack. Sisi also instructed his government to pay $11,000 to each victim’s family.
But the Bedouins of the Sinai say nothing will satisfy them short of direct retribution.
“We will not be consoled until each murderer in the Sinai is eliminated, and no mercy will be shown,” said the statement issued by Ibrahim Ergany’s Union of Sinai Tribes.