Northern Sinai Mosque Attack and Associated Risks
24 Nov 2017
A Sufi mosque in Bir al-Abed, west of al-Arish, was attacked by insurgents using explosives and automatic weapons at the conclusion of Friday prayers on 24 November. The attack was initiated by the detonation of an explosive device within the Mosque, after which militants in four SUVs approached the mosque and opened fire as survivors sought to flee. Present reporting suggests the attackers fled before security forces could respond to engage or apprehend them.
- At least 200 people have been killed and 125 wounded in a combined firearms and bomb attack.
- Attackers were likely members of Islamic State, targeting “heretic” Sufi Muslim worshippers.
- The attack marks a change in the local insurgency which has previously focused on attacking security forces.
Terrorism: A Sufi mosque in Bir al-Abed, west of al-Arish, was attacked by insurgents using explosives and automatic weapons at the conclusion of Friday prayers on 24 November. The attack was initiated by the detonation of an explosive device within the Mosque, after which militants in four SUVs approached the mosque and opened fire as survivors sought to flee. Present reporting suggests the attackers fled before security forces could respond to engage or apprehend them.
Solace global comment
There is a realistic probability that this attack marks a change in the focus of the insurgency in the North-Sinai. Whilst a persistent insurgency has been present in the region for several years, attacks have generally been focused as ambushes mounted against security forces. Whilst civilians were killed in these clashes, they were generally not the primary target.
Sectarian attacks against civilian members of religious minorities have occurred elsewhere in Egypt through 2016 and 2017, however Coptic Christians were generally the target of these attacks, rather than Sufi Muslims. In this regard, the attack can be seen as a double departure from the norm; it is the first substantial attack against a Muslim minority in the region, and the first mass casualty attack specifically against civilians in the region.
It is likely that further attacks following this will place greater emphasis on the religious element of the local insurgency, possibly supplanting the anti-state motive which has traditionally dominated in the region. Insurgent groups have increasingly self-identified as franchisees of the Islamic State, resulting in an influx of recruits motivated by the extreme, Salafist, interpretation of Islam. In this case, foreign targets are increasingly likely to face attack, regardless of their affiliation with the Egyptian state, and particularly if they have overt connections to nations which have fought against the Islamic State throughout wider the region.
Insurgent groups in the region have a proven capability to launch complex ambushes using improvised explosive devices and small arms with devastating effect against local security forces. The change in tactics signalled by the mosque attack should not be seen as diminishing the threat posed by more traditional methods of attack. In all cases, insurgents are likely to avoid a conventional battle with security forces, who have previously made heavy use of air power to destroy insurgents in conventional combat.
Travellers are advised to avoid all non-essential travel to the North-Sinai region. Travellers in the immediate area of Bir al-Abed and throughout the area should ensure they have appropriate security measures in place and a robust evacuation plan in case of attack or further escalation of the threat.
Solace Global would advise clients to employ substantially enhanced security measures when visiting Northern-Sinai. Those planning essential travel to the area are advised to consider armed close protection and armoured SUVs with security trained drivers for all travel. In all cases, the use of a traveller tracking app with the ability to display an intelligence feed will assist employers to implement effective duty of care, and also permit the traveller to remain up to date with pertinent security updates. GPS trackers may be required to implement effective tracking in rural areas.
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