Egypt hunts down militants after 300 killed in mosque attack

NOW: Egypt hunts down militants after 300 killed in mosque attack

By Hamdi Alkhshali, Laura Smith-Spark and Susannah Cullinane, CNN

(CNN) -- Egypt's air force launched airstrikes on "terrorist outposts" and vehicles after attackers massacred *300 people in northern Sinai, the military said Saturday.

More than 100 others were injured Friday in the assault on the al Rawdah Sufi mosque in Bir al-Abed, believed to be the deadliest terror attack on the country's soil.

"The Egyptian Air Force pursued the terrorist elements, discovered and destroyed a number of vehicles that carried out the brutal terrorist killings, and killed all terrorists inside those vehicles," military spokesman Tamer Rifai said in a statement Saturday.

It also targeted a number of terrorist outposts containing weapons, ammunition and radical elements, Rifai said.

President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has vowed to respond to the massacre with "brute force."

Al Rawdah mosque is known as the birthplace of an important Sufi cleric. Sufism is a mystical branch of Islam that some ultra-orthodox Muslims consider heretical.

No one has claimed responsibility, but Friday's strike bears the hallmarks of an attack by ISIS.

The attack started when an explosive device went off in a building adjacent to the mosque, and gunmen fired at worshippers as they fled, witnesses told CNN. They said gunmen then entered the mosque and fired at those inside.

The attackers had also set up "ambush" locations and opened fire on ambulances as they transported the wounded to al-Arish before the arrival of security services, according to witnesses.

Photos from inside the mosque showed what appeared to be bodies lined up in rows on the carpet.

One man told CNN he drove one of the first ambulances to the scene but turned around after shots were fired at the vehicle. Ambulances from al-Arish managed to reach the mosque only after security forces secured the road, he said.

The attackers used automatic weapons, said Diaa Rashwan, the chairman of the state information service. Some victims were also killed by the explosions.

In a short, televised speech after meeting with security officials, Sisi said the government would hunt down the attackers.

"We will respond to this act with brute force against these terrorists," he said.

"This terrorist act will strengthen our resolve, steadfastness and will to stand up to, resist and battle against terrorism."

Three days of national mourning have been declared.

The grand imam of Al-Azhar, the premier religious authority in Egypt, condemned the "barbaric attack" on the mosque.

"The shedding of blood, the violation of the sacred houses of God and the terrorizing of worshippers, are acts of corruption on the earth," Ahmed El-Tayyeb said.

The targeting of mosques followed an attack on churches, El-Tayyeb said, adding that Egyptians will prevail over terrorism with solidarity and determination. .

Friday's attack prompted wide international condemnation, with US President Donald Trump among the leaders expressing their condolences and vowing to continue the fight against terrorism.

Sisi expressed concern recently that ISIS militants fleeing Iraq and Syria would come to Egypt.

Egyptian security forces face almost daily attacks from militants with ISIS ties in northern Sinai. However, mosque attacks are relatively rare in Egypt.

In October 2015, 224 people were killed when a bomb brought down a Russian passenger jet that crashed in the Sinai Peninsula. ISIS' affiliate in Egypt claimed that attack.

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