At least 235 killed in Egypt mosque attack

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Attackers surrounded mosque, mowed down worshippers as they fled

CAIRO: Militants killed at least 235 people at a mosque in Egypt's north Sinai region yesterday, detonating a bomb and shooting at fleeing worshippers and ambulances, state media and witnesses said.

At least 109 others were wounded.

It was one of the deadliest attacks in the region's Islamist insurgency.

No group has claimed immediate responsibility, but since 2014, Egyptian security forces have battled a stubborn Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) affiliate in the north Sinai, which is mainly desert, where militants have killed hundreds of police and soldiers.

State media showed images of bloodied victims and bodies covered with blankets inside the Al Rawdah mosque in Bir al-Abed, west of the city of El Arish, Reuters reported.

"They were shooting at people as they left the mosque," a local resident whose relatives were at the scene told Reuters.

"They were shooting at the ambulances too."

Witnesses said the assailants surrounded the mosque with all-terrain vehicles then planted a bomb outside, AFP reported.

The gunmen then mowed down panicked worshippers as they attempted to flee and used the congregants' vehicles they had set alight to block routes to the mosque.

A Health Ministry official told Al Jazeera TV that "there were many people inside the mosque - it's only a small mosque".

Gunment shot worshippers fleeing the initial attack, he added.

Arabiya news channel and local sources said ISIS regarded some of the worshippers as apostates because they revere saints and shrines, which for Islamists is tantamount to idolatry.

President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, a former armed forces commander who presents himself as a defender against Islamist militants, convened an emergency meeting with his defence and interior ministers and intelligence chief soon after the attack, the presidency's Facebook page and state television said.

The government also declared three days of mourning.

Militants have mostly targeted security forces in their attacks since bloodshed in the Sinai worsened after 2013 when Mr Sisi, then an armed forces commander, led the overthrow of President Mohamed Mursi of the Muslim Brotherhood.

In July, at least 23 soldiers were killed when suicide car bombs hit two military checkpoints in the Sinai, an attack claimed by ISIS. - REUTERS