The devastating attack on the al-Radwa mosque in northern Sinai marks a dramatic escalation in the threat from Islamist radicalism in the peninsula. President Sisi’s vow of ‘brute force’ cannot solve it
To describe Friday’s horrific gun and bomb assault on a Sufi mosque in the northern Sinai peninsula as the deadliest attack by armed militants (rather than the state) in Egypt’s modern history understates it. It is one of the worst to happen anywhere in recent years. Officials say more than 300 worshippers, including 27 children, were killed. As in Manchester, Paris or Barcelona, families are devastated and a wider community left fearful – as its perpetrators desired.
It is also unprecedented, despite the area’s troubled and bloody recent history. The escalation was not only in its scale and the ruthlessness of its organisation, but also in its target. Militants in the peninsula have killed hundreds of police and soldiers; the last year has seen them strike Coptic churches and pilgrims further afield in mainland Egypt. Sufi shrines and a 100-year-old cleric have been attacked. But this attack is the first time a mosque there has been targeted (though, like the Mogadishu truck bombing which killed more than 300 people last month, it is a powerful reminder that Muslims are the main victims of attacks by radical Islamist groups).