President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi vowed to respond to the attack on al Rawdah mosque with “brute force.” Some 109 others were injured, Egyptian state media reported.
No one has claimed responsibility, but the strike bears the hallmarks of an attack by ISIS.
The mosque is known as the birthplace of an important Sufi cleric. Sufism is a mystical branch of Islam that some ultra-orthodox Muslims consider heretical.
‘Ambush’ followed blasts
Blasts from improvised explosive devices caused considerable damage to the mosque, Ahram Online said.
The attack started when an explosive went off in a building adjacent to the mosque, and gunmen fired at worshippers as they fled.
Ashraf Abu Salem 27, said gunmen then went inside the mosque to fire at people. Entering the mosque afterward, he said the bodies looked as if people had been shot in the back. His clothes were stained with the blood of the injured he helped to carry out, but he was unharmed.
The gunmen had set up “ambush” locations and opened fire on ambulances as they were transporting wounded worshippers to al-Arish before the arrival of security services, eyewitnesses reported.
Photos from inside the mosque showed what appeared to be bodies lined up in rows on the carpet.
Osama, who didn’t want his last name used, drove one of the first ambulances to the scene. He said he turned around after shots were fired at the vehicle. Ambulances from al-Arish managed to reach the mosque only after security forces secured the road, he said.
The attackers used automatic weapons, said Diaa Rashwan, the chairman of the state information service. Some victims were also killed by the explosions.
Three days of national mourning
In a short, televised speech after meeting with security officials, Sisi said, “We will respond to this act with brute force against these terrorists. This terrorist act will strengthen our resolve, steadfastness and will to stand up to, resist and battle against terrorism.”
The presidency has declared three days of national mourning.