ISMAILIA, Egypt - They arrived in five SUVs, took positions across from the mosqueâ€™s door and windows, and just as the imam was about to deliver his Friday sermon from atop the pulpit, they opened fire and tossed grenades at the estimated 500 worshippers inside. When the violence finally stopped, more than 300 people, including 27 children, had been killed and 128 injured.
As the gunfire rang out and the blasts shook the mosque, worshipers screamed and cried out in pain. A stampede broke out in the rush toward a door leading to the washrooms. Others tried desperately to force their way out of the windows.
Those who survived spoke of children screaming as they saw parents and older brothers mowed down by gunfire or shredded by the blasts. Some marveled at their narrow escape from a certain death. Some families lost all or most male members in the massacre.
So composed were the militants that they methodically checked their victims for any sign of life after the initial round of blazing gunfire. Those still moving or breathing received a bullet to the head or the chest, the witnesses said. When the ambulances arrived they shot at them, repelling them as they got back into their vehicles and fled.
Fridayâ€™s assault was Egyptâ€™s deadliest attack by Islamic extremists in the countryâ€™s modern history, a grim milestone in a long-running fight against an insurgency led by a local affiliate of the Islamic State group. Al-Rawdah Mosque was in a sleepy village by the same name in Egyptâ€™s troubled northern Sinai, near the small town of Bir al-Abd.
A statement by the countryâ€™s chief prosecutor, Nabil Sadeq, said the attackers, some masked, numbered between 25 and 30. Those with bare faces sported heavy beards and long hair, it added. Clad in military-style camouflage pants and black T-shirts, one of them carried a black banner with the declaration of the Muslim faith - there is no God but Allah and Muhammad is his prophet. The banner matched those carried by IS, which has not claimed responsibility for the attack.
They also torched seven cars parked outside the mosque that belonged to worshipers, the statement added.
The chief prosecutorâ€™s statement was the most detailed account given by authorities and it generally agreed with what witnesses told The Associated Press on Saturday in the Suez Canal city of Ismailia, where some of the wounded are hospitalized.