The Attack on the al-Rawdah Mosque: While ISIS Stays Silent, Other Jihadi Groups Condemn the Slaughter
The bloody attack on the al-Rawdah Mosque in Northern Sinai, which killed 305 people, is now considered the deadliest terrorist attack in Egypt’s modern history. While ISIS has yet to claim responsibility for the attack, the target of the attack – a mosque frequented by Sufi worshippers – is typical of ISIS' hatred of Sufism, a mystical strand of Islam traditionally despised by Salafis. "Sinai Province" (Wilayat Sinai), the local ISIS affiliate in the Sinai Peninsula, has a long history of attacking Sufis in Northern Sinai, and explicitly stated in the January 2017 issue of Rumiyah, its multi-language propaganda magazine, that it "will not permit the presence of Sufi tariqas [orders] in Sinai specifically and in Egypt in general". In the same issue, it also promised to "eradicate the Rawdah lodge", where the attack took place.
While ISIS may yet claim the attack in the coming days, other jihadi groups – in Egypt and elsewhere – condemned it in a clear attempt to distance themselves from the atrocity, which targeted a mosque during Friday prayers. As Elisabeth Kendall noted, some pro-al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) channels on Telegram responded to the attack by reposting Khalid Saeed Batarfi's September 2015 address outlawing the targeting of mosques. This strategy of pragmatic moderation is consistent with Ayman al-Zawahiri's 2013 "General Guidelines for the Jihad", in which Zawahiri stressed the need for al-Qaeda to "refrain from harming Muslims by explosions, killing, kidnapping or destroying their wealth or property" and "refrain from targeting enemies in mosques, markets and gatherings where they mix with Muslims or with those who do not fight us." While ISIS was never shy about executing "apostate" Muslims or blowing up Shi'i and Sufi mosques, al-Qaeda had tried to present a more moderate face by not attacking Muslim non-combatants and places of worship.
The al-Rawdah attack was also condemned by Jama'at Jund al-Islam, the pro-al-Qaeda group which re-emerged on November 11th and blamed ISIS for “repeated aggressions against the Muslims in Sinai”. Shortly after the attack on the mosque, the group issued a statement titled "the disavowal of Jama'at Jund al-Islam from the crime of the slaughter of the Friday prayer in northern Sinai" in which it condemned the attack on the mosque and other attacks on Muslim places of worship. Jama'at Ansar al-Islam, another salafi-jihadi group active in Sinai, and Islamist militant group Liwaa al-Thawra also published a joint condemnation of the attack.
The attack on a mosque – a holy place of worship – and the unprecedented death toll have already led to public outrage in Egypt, and President Sisi promised to respond to the attack with an "iron fist". To escape the inevitable public criticism and crackdown by the regime's security services, all the militant groups in Sinai – including the pro-al-Qaeda Jama'at Jund al-Islam – tried to distance themselves from the atrocity. All, except ISIS. The coming days will tell whether it will claim credit for the attack, or will remain silent.