Egypt mosque terror attack: survivors say as children screamed in terror, the extremists shouted Allahu Akbar

'The shooting was random and hysterical at the beginning, and then became more deliberate: whoever they weren't sure was dead or still breathing was shot dead.'

Adam Lusher
Saturday 25 November 2017 13:24 GMT
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A Quran and remnants of personal belongings of victims of the attack on the al-Rawdah mosque
A Quran and remnants of personal belongings of victims of the attack on the al-Rawdah mosque (REUTERS/Mohamed Soliman)

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Survivors of the Egypt mosque terror attack have told how Islamist extremists went on a 20-minute killing spree shouting Allahu Akbar as children screamed in terror.

They have told of worshippers jumping out of windows, and stampeding to escape terrorists who used machine guns and rocket propelled grenades to kill 305 victims in the deadliest attack by Islamist extremists in Egypt's modern history.

One witness said the terrorists began by spraying bullets at random, but finished by methodically shooting anyone they thought was still alive.

The attack began when five off-road vehicles carrying between 25 and 30 armed men in camouflage trousers and black T-shirts arrived as the noon sermon was about to start in the al-Rawdah mosque in the small North Sinai village of Bir al-Abed.

Many of those inside were workers at a nearby salt factory, practising Sufi, a mystical form of Islam renowned for its peaceful nature but regarded as heretical by extremist radicals.

The mosque’s main cleric, Sheikh Mohamed Abdel Fatah Zowraiq said at least a dozen attackers burst in, opening fire randomly.

The cleric, who survived with just bruises and scratches, told the Associated Press (AP) there were also explosions.

Officials cited by the state news agency MENA said the attackers fired rocket-propelled grenades as well as machine guns, and shot people as they tried to flee the building.

"Everyone lay down on the floor and kept their heads down,” Mansour, a 38-year-old salt factory worker, told AP. “If you raised your head you get shot.”

He added: “The shooting was random and hysterical at the beginning, and then became more deliberate: whoever they weren't sure was dead or still breathing was shot dead."

Mansour, who suffered two gunshot wounds in the legs, said that as children screamed in terror, the militants shouted Allahu Akbar, God is great.

Panicked worshippers hid behind concrete columns or whatever shelter they could find as the attackers, some of them masked, others showing heavy beards and long hair, continued firing.

"I knew I was injured,” said Mansour, who is now receiving medical treatment in the city of Ismailia, “But I was in a situation that was much scarier than being wounded. I was only seconds away from certain death.”

Mansour, who said he had settled in Bir al-Abed three years ago in the hope of escaping the violence elsewhere in northern Sinai, added that as the shooting continued, many of the worshippers recited their final prayers.

Abdullah Abdel-Nasser, 14, who was in the mosque with his father, said that at one point a militant shouted for children to leave.

The teenager rushed out, despite being wounded in the shoulder by shrapnel and a bullet.

"I saw many people on the floor, many dead,” he said. “I don't think anyone survived.”

Three police officers on the scene said the militants also used burning cars to block roads, effectively cutting off escape routes and impeding the progress of anyone trying to get into Bir al-Abed to stop the attack.

Despite the attackers’ call for children to leave, 27 children are among the dead. Egypt’s chief prosecutor Nabil Sadeq said the total death toll currently stood at 305, with 126 people wounded.

Some families that lost all or most of their male members.

Revealing that 18 members of his extended family had been killed, Mohammed Ali demanded to know why the authorities had been unable to stop the attack while it was in progress.

“Where was the army?” he said. “It's only a few kilometers away. This is the question we cannot answer."

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