Updated on November 25 at 9:37 a.m. ET
The attack on a mosque in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula during Friday prayers appears to be the deadliest in the country’s recent history. State media now puts the death toll at more than 300. It has surpassed that of the suspected airliner bombing of 2015, when a Russian jet exploded over the Sinai Peninsula in an explosion later claimed by the Islamic State. In that incident, all 224 people onboard died.
State media described a multi-staged assault in which attackers detonated a bomb during Friday prayers, shot people trying to flee, and then shot at ambulances appearing at the scene. The New York Times summarized the significance: “Even by recent standards in Egypt, where militants have blown up Christian worshipers in church pews and gunned down pilgrims in buses, it was an unusually ruthless and deadly assault.”
Egypt has since 2013 dramatically stepped up a battle against militants in the Sinai Peninsula. Still, the attacks have continued, especially against the security forces that have massed in the region. In 2014, an insurgent group based there pledged allegiance to ISIS, whose strength in the Sinai a recent estimate puts at about 1,000 operatives. In perhaps their most sophisticated attack on security forces, in January 2015, fighters hit army and police bases in the northeast of the province, killing more than 30 people in some of the province’s most heavily fortified areas. As Michael Horton of the Jamestown Foundation wrote in June, Egypt’s ISIS affiliate is “one of the most formidable of the Islamic State franchises. … [It] has fought the Egyptian army, one of the region’s more capable armies, to a standstill.”