Cairo: Egypt's President Abdul Fattah Al Sisi has vowed to respond forcefully after attackers killed hundreds of worshippers in a packed mosque in restive North Sinai province, the country's deadliest attack in recent memory.
Egypt’s chief prosecutor raised the death toll in Sinai mosque attack to 305, including 27 children; adding that at least 128 were injured.
Al Sisi declared three days of mourning would begin on Saturday, the day after the gun and bomb assault on the Al Rawdah mosque, roughly 40km west of the North Sinai capital of Al Arish.
In a televised speech the president pledged to "respond with brutal force", adding that "the army and police will avenge our martyrs and return security and stability with force in the coming short period".
Several hours later Egyptian air force jets destroyed vehicles used in the attack and "terrorist" locations where weapons and ammunition were stocked, an army spokesman said.
Prosecutors said the mosque attack on Friday is the deadliest in Egypt in two years.
Egypt President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi vows to respond forcefully after attackers kill at least 235 worshippers in a packed mosque in restive North Sinai province https://t.co/iFDRHY4z5n pic.twitter.com/MxCHpZt8PJ— AFP news agency (@AFP) November 25, 2017
Around 103 people were also injured, the prosecutors added, according to the official television.
The attack started with bomb explosions around the mosque, survivors and security sources said.
Masked gunmen then shot at the panic-stricken worshippers as they were trying to leave the mosque.
The attack targeted the Al Rawdah mosque west of Al Arish, the provincial capital of North Sinai during the weekly Friday prayers.
The gunmen also shot at ambulances that were trying to evacuate the victims from the site, state television reported.
The attack is seen as a turning point in assaults by extremists whose previous assaults mainly targeted security forces and Egypt's Christian minority.
Shaikh Mohammad tweets
"The world was shocked by Friday’s terrorist attack targeting the Al Rawdha Mosque in Egypt. 235 innocent people were martyred. Shame on those who killed them," His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai tweeted.
"May Allah protect Egypt, its people and help us to be Egypt’s supporter forever," he added.
Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of the 235 victims of the Rawdah mosque bombing in Egypt. May God rest their souls. We stand with Egypt at this difficult time.— HH Sheikh Mohammed (@HHShkMohd) November 24, 2017
Egypt declared nationwide mourning for three days for victims of Friday’s attack.
President Abdul Fattah Al Sissi held a crisis meeting with a security committee comprising ministers of the defence and interior as well as chiefs of intelligence services and discussed consequences of the assault, the television added without further details.
Al Sissi vowed "deterrent and firm" punishment against perpetrators and financiers of the attack.
"This dastardly act, which reflects inhumanity of its perpetrators, will not go without a deterrent and firm punishment," a presidential statement said.
"The hand of justice will reach everyone who participated, supported, financed or incited this cowardly attack on innocent worshippers," the statement added.
Images on local media showed the dead covered with bed sheets inside the mosque that belongs to a local Sufi order.
No group has claimed responsibility for the attack, Egypt’s deadliest in two years.
Attack on Russian plane
In October 2015, a Russian passenger plane crashed in Sinai shortly after take-off from the resort town of Sharm Al Shaikh, killing all the 224 people on board. Daesh terrorists claimed that attack.
North Sinai is a hotbed for militants, who have carried out a string of deadly attacks mainly against security forces since 2013 when the army, then led by Al Sissi, deposed Islamist president Mohammad Mursi.
UAE condemns terror attack
Over a hundred worshippers were killed or injured in the attack.
In a statement issued on Friday, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation expressed its vehement condemnation and denunciation of this terrorist act, which contravenes human values and principles, as well as the teachings of the Islamic Sharia and other religions.
"This horrible crime exposes, beyond doubt, the ugly face of terrorism that does not respect the human soul and the sanctity of places of worship. It also exposes the false allegations of extremist groups, which dons the cloak of religion to justify their barbaric acts, which Islam is innocent from," the statement said.
Sissi vows to punish mosque attackers and financiers
Egyptian President Abdul Fattah Al Sissi has vowed "deterrent and firm" punishment against perpetrators of the fatal attack on the mosque in North Sinai.
An attack on a mosque in restive North Sinai was Egypt's deadliest in recent memory. Here are some of the country's biggest attacks since the late 1990s: https://t.co/OHb4k0zefL pic.twitter.com/ugEY2wvdmY— AFP news agency (@AFP) November 24, 2017
"This dastardly act, which reflects inhumanity of its perpetrators, will not go without a deterrent and firm punishment," his office said in a statement.
"The hand of justice will reach everyone who participated, supported, financed or incited this cowardly attack on innocent worshipers," he added.
Al Azhar condemns deadly mosque attack
Al Azhar, Sunni Islam's leading centre of learning, has condemned the attack on the mosque in North Sinai that left 200 dead.
"Shedding blood, desecrating houses of God and terrorizing worshippers are corrupt deeds, which must be struck hard and firmly," head of Al Azhar Shaikh Ahmad Al Tayyeb said in a statement.
"After targeting churches [by militants], the turn has come for mosques as though terrorism wants to unify Egyptians in death and devastation. But terrorism will be routed," the top Muslim cleric added.
In recent months, Daesh terrorists have claimed a series of deadly attacks on churches of Egypt's Christian minority.
Al Sissi holds emergency meeting
President Abdul Fattah Al Sissi convened an emergency security meeting soon after the attack, state television reported.
Lights of the Eiffel Tower are switched off in tribute to the victims of an attack on worshipers in a mosque in Egypt's restive North Sinai province which left at least 235 dead pic.twitter.com/LWGoJbDDyW— AFP news agency (@AFP) November 25, 2017
Egypt's security forces are battling a stubborn Daesh insurgency in north Sinai, where militants have killed hundreds of police and soldiers since fighting there intensified over the last three years.
With inputs from Agencies