Egypt massacre in Sinai may point to an even more bloody IS

CAIRO (AP) — The massacre of more than 300 worshippers at a mosque in Egypt’s Sinai crossed a new line — even by militants’ brutal standards — and could be a sign the Islamic State group is trying to make up for the loss of its “caliphate” in Iraq and Syria or that an even more ultra-extremist faction is rising in power.

Either way, if the IS affiliate in Sinai does have a new readiness to slaughter Muslims, that threatens to put a further strain on Egypt’s security forces and intimidate anyone cooperating with the government in the fight against militants. But it also could raise a backlash against IS, prompting Sinai tribes to cooperate with the military and take greater action to stop any of their members from joining the group.

The IS-linked militants waging a campaign of violence in the Sinai and other parts of the country the past three years have traditionally targeted security forces, government officials, Christians and Muslim civilians suspected of collaborating with authorities. However, the Nov. 24 attack — the bloodiest ever militant attack in Egypt — hit ordinary Muslims gathered for a Friday sermon, followers of the mystical movement in Islam known as Sufism that militants view as heretical.

“The ceiling of who is an infidel has risen to include worshippers and to view the slaying of Muslims inside mosques as permissible,” said Ahmed Ban, an Egyptian expert on Islamic extremist groups.

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Ban suspects that followers of an ultra-extremist IS faction known as “Hazimiyoun” played a role or were behind the mosque attack.

It may also be possible that other IS militants carried it out, feeling pressure from the Hazimiyoun faction’s rising power to show they are not “soft.”

There has been no claim of responsibility for the Sinai attack, and it is impossible to confirm that the faction did have a role. Some experts believe that IS may have felt it needed a “showcase” attack to show it remains deadly even after losing almost all its territory in Syria and Iraq.

Tore Hamming, a researcher at the European University Institute focusing on jihadis and ideological differences within IS, said the mosque butchery was not necessarily connected to the Hazimiyoun faction. No IS fighters “would consider Sufis true Muslims.” He believed the attack came from a “great need (among IS) for large symbolic attacks.”

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