Since the deadly attack on a mosque in Egypt’s North Sinai that killed 305 worshipping Muslims, questions have been raised as to why the perpetrators would carry out such an act on civilians performing their weekly Friday prayers.
Considering that the number of inhabitants in the Bir al-Abd village where the al-Rowda mosque is located is only around 2000, the attack wiped out a considerable part of the community.
Several residents who spoke to Egypt Independent under condition of anonymity said that the mosque is affiliated with a local Sufi order.
Sufism, known as Taṣawwuf in the Arab world, refers to a mystical tradition, or the inward dimension, of Islam and is considered a type of infidelity by the so-called “Sinai Province,” a North Sinai-based Islamic State-affiliated group.
The group, which since 2014 has increasingly claimed responsibility for militant attacks against both the Egyptian army and police forces as well as civilians in the peninsula, in 2016 threatened to blow up the targeted al-Rawda mosque.
The threats appeared in the Islamic State’s weekly newspaper “Al-Nabaa” through an interview with the head of Sinai Province’s Islamic Police Authority, or “Al-Hesba.”
In the interview, published in January, the “Al-Hesba” leader noted that the “Sinai Province” is doing its best to end the presence of Sufism in the Sinai. Sufi practitioners are given the choice to disavow Sufism and repent, but if they refuse they are killed.
Also, on November 18, 2016, the “Sinai Province” published photos that depicted the beheading of two elderly men who allegedly were Sufi “priests” in an unknown desert area in North Sinai.
The photos show members of the “Sinai Province” standing in a circle while a verdict is being read out to a blindfolded elderly man who is kneeling. The second man who appears in the photos was another elderly man by the name of Sheikh Soliman Abu Harraz who is considered one of the most prominent Islamic and Sufi figures in North Sinai.
“Sinai Province” has also released a number of photos showing Sufis being subjected to repentance sessions organized by members of the terrorist group.
Since 2013, state security forces have been engaged in violent clashes with the “Sinai Province”, previously known as Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis. In 2014, the group declared its affiliation with IS and has launched deadly attacks on army and police checkpoints.
Over the course of the last two years, the Egyptian Armed Forces have launched counterattacks against militant stationing points across the Sinai Peninsula where the group is based, particularly in the cities of Sheikh Zuweid, Rafah, and Al-Arish.