An Egyptian military watchtower is seen on the Sinai Peninsula near the border with Gaza Strip. (EPA Photo)
CAIRO: Islamist militants sprayed gunfire and exploded bombs at a crowded Sufi mosque near Egypt’s Sinai coast on Friday, killing at least 155 people and wounding dozens more, state news media said.
Attacks on mosques are rare in Egypt, where the Islamic State group has mostly targeted Coptic Christian churches and security officials in recent years. So the devastating attack on the mosque in Bir al-Abd, about 200 kilometres northeast of Cairo, has sent shockwaves across the country.
The Middle East News Agency (MENA) reported that another 120 people were injured by an explosion near a mosque during Friday prayer, and by subsequent gunfire from militants.
Reuters reported, citing eyewitness accounts provided to the Egyptian newspaper Al-Masry Al-Youm, that an explosion occurred near the Al-Rawdah mosque in the centre of the town, after which people fleeing the area were attacked by gunmen.
The volatile northern Sinai Peninsula has been the site of nyumerous attacks blamed on a local Islamic State affiliate.
The government has declared three days of mourning following the attack, state television said
Earlier, officials said militants in four off-road vehicles bombed the mosque and fired on worshippers during the sermon segment of Friday prayers.
Eyewitnesses reported ambulances ferrying casualties from the scene to nearby hospitals.
Egypt’s security forces are battling a stubborn Islamic State insurgency in north Sinai, where militants have killed hundreds of police and soldiers since fighting there intensified over the last three years.
Militants have mostly targeted security forces in their attacks, but have also tried to expand beyond the peninsula by hitting Egyptian Christian churches and pilgrims.