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Attack On Egypt Mosque Kills More Than 300


We're going to turn now to that deadly terrorist attack in Egypt yesterday, where more than 300 people were killed, including more than two dozen children, and more than 120 people were wounded. This all happened at the al Rawduh Sufi mosque in the northern Sinai. Egypt's chief prosecutor, Nabil Sadek, said in a statement today that between 25 and 30 people carried out the attack. They set off bombs at the mosque and then fired at worshipers as they tried to escape. No one has yet claimed responsibility for the attack, but Egyptian security forces have been trying to uproot ISIS affiliates in the Sinai for the last four years. And ISIS had targeted Sufis in the past. Sufism's a branch of Sunni Islam that the Islamic State sees as heretical.

We've asked Abderrahim Foukara to come by to tell us more about what is being described as the deadliest single terrorist attack in Egypt's modern history. He's the Washington bureau chief for Al-Jazeera. He's here with us once again in our Washington, D.C., studios. Welcome. Thanks so much for joining us once again.


MARTIN: So this did not come out of nowhere. I mean, the Sinai region has been besieged for years, according to one account that I read, that some similar violence has unfolded in that area like every few weeks in recent months, that some - a thousand members of the Egyptian security forces have been killed there since 2013. Why is that?

FOUKARA: I mean, first of all, you have to recall that the Sinai part of Egypt has unique character and a unique history. It was occupied by the Israelis, and then the Egyptians got back from the Israelis. It's always been an area with security concerns. And Egypt has seen armed insurgency in its recent history - 30, 40 years. It ebbed and flowed. In 2014, specifically in the Sinai Peninsula, that insurgency has found new life. The locals in the Sinai Peninsula have always complained for a long time that they've been ignored in terms of development by the central government in Cairo.

And in many ways, the insurgency has found fertile ground to grow, particularly since the current president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, when he deposed the elected president of Egypt in the summer of 2013. It was expected that the insurgency would grow. And now, we're obviously talking about a - an ISIS presence. So, you know, the terrorist threat in the Sinai, although it had existed in various forms in the past, now that, you know, you have affiliates of ISIS, it has obviously taken new and bigger significance.

MARTIN: Do you see this moment as a turning point? Does it say something about Egypt's ability to prevent insurgents in the country, or is it something specific to that region? And the other question is that, you know, Christians, as we know, have been targeted in the past, but this is the first major attack on a Muslim congregation in Egypt. And does that say something also?

FOUKARA: The issue of terrorist attacks and terrorism in Egypt, this is a very, very, very serious situation, not just in the Sinai but in various parts of the country. Remember that there have been attacks in recent years even in Cairo, where the central government is obviously seated. But the scale and the toll of this particular attack is unprecedented. The official figures are talking about over 300 people killed and over a hundred injured among them children.

So it is a major challenge for the government of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi in all manner of ways. It casts doubt over the policy that he has tried to pursue to combat terrorism. And a lot of voices will be telling him that, look, your strategy for combating terrorism is not working because combating terrorism, yes, you have to be tough using the army and the police, but there are other components, including basically local political participation and opening up the system. And so far, since 2013, it's been - Egypt has been run by an iron fist, not allowing for that kind of participation.

MARTIN: And very briefly before we let you go, it's been designated a military zone. Egyptian and Western journalists have had difficulty entering there. In fact, I don't know that there are any Western journalists there. So are we getting a full picture of what's going on there?

FOUKARA: Probably not. It's very difficult to get the full picture. But you'll get a lot of news outlets, obviously, because of the importance of Egypt, have invested a lot of time and effort to actually build contacts and network of contacts with local Egyptians everywhere. So in terms of military information, unless it filters through the filters of the government, it doesn't come out. So you have to have alternatives. It's now that those contacts that you build as a journalist have become very, very important because at least they help give you an alternative view of what's happening.

MARTIN: That's Abderrahim Foukara. He's Al-Jazeera's Washington bureau chief. He was kind enough to join us in our studios in Washington, D.C. Abderrahim, thank you so much for speaking with us once again.

FOUKARA: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.