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More Than 300 Killed In Attack On Egyptian Mosque

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

And Egypt is in mourning for victims of the deadliest attack in modern history there. Yesterday, gunmen in North Sinai province opened fire on a crowded mosque after they set off explosives. The Egyptian government says at least 305 people were killed. And more than 128 were wounded. NPR's Jane Arraf has more.

JANE ARRAF, BYLINE: The morning after the attack, workers in the mosque were still cleaning up the blood and sweeping away shattered furniture. The attack took place about 25 miles from the provincial capital, El-Arish, in a village called al-Rawdah. The attacker set off explosives near the mosque. And then dozens of them opened fire as people tried to escape. They shot at vehicles carrying the wounded. Egyptian security forces have been fighting armed extremist groups here for the past six years. But a major attack on an Egyptian mosque is unprecedented. President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi vowed revenge.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT ABDEL FATTAH EL-SISI: (Through interpreter) The armed forces and police will avenge our martyrs and shortly restore security and stability with utmost force. We will respond to this act with brute force in facing these extremist terrorists.

ARRAF: Many of the victims were Sufis, a mystical strain of Islam that incorporates music and dance. Sufis have been one of the main targets of an ISIS affiliate that has carried out bombings and other attacks in Egypt and considers them heretics. In al-Rawdah, religious officials said mosques in the area had been warned for the past month not to hold ceremonies. Friday's attack was also in an area where local tribes have worked with Egyptian security forces.

North Sinai province has been under a state of emergency for most of the past three years, including a curfew. Journalists are generally banned from there. The Egyptian government says weapons are smuggled in, and some of the attacks are planned from neighboring Libya. It's hundreds of miles from the main tourist resorts on the Red Sea in the South Sinai. But even attacks far from those areas tend to scare away tourists, which Egypt badly needs. The military overnight launched airstrikes on the mountain hideouts of militants it said were involved in the attack. Jane Arraf, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.