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The death toll in Friday’s attack by suspected Islamic militants against a mosque in the northern Sinai region of Egypt has risen to 305, the Egyptian public prosecutor’s office has said.
It said the attackers wore masks and military-style uniforms and carried an Isis flag. They surrounded the mosque, blocking windows and a doorway before opening fire on worshippers with automatic weapons during Friday prayers.
The Egyptian military announced early on Saturday that its warplanes had struck vehicles used by the militants suspected of carrying out the attack. It said that all occupants of the vehicles were killed but gave no further details.
The assault on the al-Rawdah mosque, was the deadliest militant attack against an Egyptian target and the first large-scale jihadi assault against Muslim civilians in the north African state.
No group has claimed responsibility for the attack in Bir al-Abed, about 40km west of the North Sinai port of Arish. It is in an area that has seen relatively little violence, unlike the eastern parts of the country that border Gaza, the Palestinian strip, and Israel.
But Isis fighters have been active in the northern Sinai, where they have killed hundreds of policemen and soldiers. The militants have also targeted members of the Coptic community, prompting a Christian exodus from the region.
Egypt lacks the Sunni-Shia divide that Isis and other militant groups have exploited in countries such as Iraq where attacks on mosques by extremists from rival sects are frequent. Egyptian Muslims are overwhelmingly Sunni.
The al-Rawdah mosque is used by Sufis, members of a mystical form of Islam that Isis accuses of practising heresy and has targeted before. Millions of Egyptians are members of Sufi orders that form part of the Islamic tradition in the country.
President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi convened an emergency security meeting and the government declared three days of mourning. Mr Sisi promised that the attack would not go unpunished.
“Justice will be served against all those who participated, contributed, supported, funded, or instigated this cowardly attack,” he said.
A former army chief who came to power after a popularly backed 2013 coup toppled an Islamist president, Mr Sisi has previously vowed to defeat the militants. But attacks by extremist groups have increased.
US President Donald Trump called the attack on the mosque a “horrible and cowardly terrorist attack” in a post on Twitter. In a call with Mr Sisi, Trump said the US would continue to stand with Egypt in the face of terrorism.
Isis assaults in the north African state have been largely confined to the northern Sinai, although cells loyal to the group have occasionally been able to strike in mainland Egypt. They killed dozens of Christians in church bombings earlier this year.
The jihadi group has occasionally assassinated Muslim civilians in northern Sinai, but usually because it suspected them of being informers for the security forces.
Last month an al-Qaeda-linked group in the Western Desert killed at least 16 police officers in an ambush. The authorities hunted down the group, killed several of its members and freed a police officer who had been kidnapped.
Militant violence has damaged the country’s vital tourism industry, which took a heavy blow in 2015 after an Isis bomb planted aboard a Russian tourist airliner that took off from the Sharm el-Sheikh resort in South Sinai exploded in the air, killing all 224 passengers and crew.