Egyptian village where mosque was attacked had been warned

Associated Press


Elders of a village in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula where militants killed 305 people in a mosque had been warned by Islamic State operatives to stop collaborating with security forces and to suspend rituals associated with Islam’s mystical Sufi movement, security officials and residents said Sunday.

The latest warning came as recently as a week ago, telling villagers in Al-Rawdah not to conduct Sufi rituals Nov. 29-30 to commemorate the birth of the Prophet Muhammad, according to residents and the officials who work for security and military intelligence agencies operating in Sinai.

Local operatives of the Islamic State affiliate in Sinai consider Sufis to be heretics who should be killed. Ahmed Saqr, an expert on the Sinai insurgency, said militants had publicly identified the mosque, which also serves as a Sufi center, as a target months ago.

He wrote Saturday in a Facebook post that the selection of the Al-Rawdah mosque as a target “raises questions about those who read, analyze and prepare in our security agencies,” and whether anything could have been done to prevent the “untold horrors.”

Mohammed Ibrahim, a university student from the village, said militants had warned residents a few days before Friday’s attack not to collaborate with security forces. The warning, he told The Associated Press by telephone Sunday from the nearby town of Bir al-Abd, followed the detention three weeks ago by villagers of three suspected militants who were handed over to security forces.

The militants also distributed leaflets several times ordering villagers not to cooperate with security forces and to abandon Sufism, he said.

Egypt’s military and security forces have been waging a tough and costly campaign against militants in the towns, villages and desert mountains of northern Sinai. Across the country, thousands have been arrested in a crackdown on suspected Islamists and other dissenters and government critics.

In the past year, militants have bombed churches in the capital of Cairo and other cities, killing dozens of Christians.

The bloodshed at the Al-Rawdah mosque was the first major militant attack on a Muslim congregation, and it eclipsed violence dating back to an Islamic militant insurgency in the 1990s.

The mosque is frequented by Sufis and is the local headquarters of the prominent Sufi sect, or tareeqah, founded by the local al-Jerir clan, a branch of the powerful Al-Sawarkah tribe.

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