IS warned against 'Sufi rituals' days before mosque attack

IS warned against 'Sufi rituals' days before mosque attack
Villagers in Egypt where militants killed 305 people in a mosque had been warned by Islamic State to stop collaborating with security forces and to suspend Sufi rituals.
3 min read
27 November, 2017
More than 300 people were killed in the attack [Getty]

Islamic State operatives warned elders of a village in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula where militants killed 305 people in a mosque last week to stop collaborating with security forces and to suspend rituals associated with Islam’s mystical Sufi movement, security officials and residents said.

Local operatives of the Islamic State group’s affiliate in Sinai issued the latest warning as recently as a week ago, telling villagers in al-Rawdah not to hold Sufi rituals on Nov. 29-30 to commemorate the birth of the Prophet Muhammad, according to residents and the officials who work for security and military intelligence agencies operating in Sinai.

Ahmed Saqr, an expert on the Sinai insurgency, said militants had publicly identified the mosque, which also serves as a Sufi centre, as a target months ago. The Islamic State group’s affiliate in Sinai consider Sufis to be heretics who should be killed.

In the January edition of an IS online magazine, a figure purporting to be a high-level official in the group’s Sinai affiliate vowed to target Sufis, accusing them of idolatry and heretical “innovation” in religion, warning that the group will “not permit (their) presence” in Sinai or Egypt.

On a Facebook post published on Saturday, Saqr said the selection of the al-Rawdah mosque as a target “raises questions about those who read, analyse and prepare in our security agencies” and whether anything could have been done to prevent the “untold horrors.”

Similar claims were made by Mohammed Ibrahim, a university student from the village who said militants had warned residents a few days before Friday’s attack not to collaborate with security forces.

The warning followed the detention three weeks ago by villagers of three suspected militants who were handed over to security forces, he told AP by telephone on Sunday.

The militants also distributed leaflets several times ordering villagers not to cooperate with security forces and to abandon Sufism, he said.

Another al-Rawdah resident, Mohammed Darwish, 30, said militants stormed the home of village tribal leader Sheikh Hussein al-Jerirr twice this year.

“They threatened him not to hold Sufi gatherings, and last week, they came on motorbikes and asked residents not to participate in Sufi rituals,” Darwish said.

Egypt’s military and security forces have been waging a tough and costly campaign against militants in the towns, villages and desert mountains of northern Sinai. Across the country, thousands have been arrested in a crackdown on suspected Islamists and other dissenters and government critics.

The bloodshed at the al-Rawdah mosque was the first major militant attack on a Muslim congregation, and it eclipsed violence in the country dating back to an Islamic militant insurgency in the 1990s.

The mosque is frequented by Sufis and is the local headquarters of the prominent Sufi tareeqah, founded by the local al-Jerir clan, a branch of the powerful al-Sawarkah tribe.

The deadliest attack by Muslim extremists in Egypt’s modern history killed 305 people, including 27 children, with 128 wounded, according to official figures.