Terrorism & Insurgency

Islamic State’s likely responsibility for attack in Egypt’s north Sinai risks losing its local tribal support

27 November 2017
A picture taken on 25 November 2017 shows Al Rawdah mosque, about 40 km west of the North Sinai capital of El-Arish, after a gun and bombing attack. Source: STR/AFP/Getty Images

Key Points

  • Although no group has yet claimed responsibility for the attack, it was most likely carried out by militants associated with the Sinai wilayat (province) of the Islamic State.
  • The Al Rawdah attack on a Sufi mosque is unlikely to achieve its intended effect of provoking religious and sectarian conflict in Egypt, as well as insurgency, but, instead risks backfiring on the Islamic State.
  • The attack is, however, an indicator of the Islamic State in Egypt’s intent, particularly in attracting returning jihadists from Iraq and Syria, as the Caliphate continues to be degraded in the Levant.


On 24 November, approximately 30 jihadist militants attacked the Al Rawdah mosque in North Sinai, killing 305 civilians and wounding 128.

This incident is the deadliest terrorist assault on civilians in Egypt’s modern history. The Al Rawdah mosque is in North Sinai, approximately 40 kilometres west of al-Arish city, on the desert coastal road from Bir al Abd town. According to eyewitness accounts, the attack began at the start of Friday prayers, when the building was at its fullest. Improvised explosive devices (IEDs) were detonated outside, and a combination of automatic weapons and grenades were used when the worshippers began to flee the building.

Photographs from inside the mosque after the attack did not indicate any obvious structural damage to the building. The militants set up improvised road blocks by using burning cars to obstruct the survivors’ escape. The militants, some of them masked, were wearing military uniforms mixed with black shirts, and waited to ambush first responder emergency services to maximise the final death count, before escaping in off-road vehicles. The first reaction of the military has involved airstrikes concentrated in several mountainous areas surrounding Al Rawdah mosque where militants were believed to be hiding out, according to security sources.

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