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Egypt Reeling from Attack on Mosque that Killed 305

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CAIRO — Egypt was reeling Sunday from the horrific militant attack on a mosque in northern Sinai that killed 305 people two days earlier — the deadliest assault by Islamic extremists in its modern history, and a grim milestone in a long-running fight against the insurgency led by an Islamic State affiliate.

Survivors and Egypt’s top prosecutor have given accounts of the massacre that unfolded as more than two dozen assailants, carrying a black IS banner, unleashed gunfire and explosions during Friday prayers at the Al-Rawdah Mosque in a sleepy village by the same name near the small town of Bir al-Abd.

The attackers arrived in five SUVs, took positions across from the mosque’s door and windows, and just as the imam was about to deliver his sermon from the pulpit, they opened fire and tossed grenades at the estimated 500 people inside.

The worshippers 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 siblings mowed down by gunfire or shredded by the blasts.

When the violence finally stopped, 305 people, including 27 children, had been killed and 128 wounded.

One of the witnesses, Ebid Salem Mansour, recalled how the attackers shouted Allahu Akbar, or God is great, as they fired on the worshippers.

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.

Friday’s attack targeted a mosque frequented by Sufis, members of a mystic movement within Islam. Islamic militants, including IS, consider Sufis heretics because of their less literal interpretations of the faith.

Egypt’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, his statement 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.

Despite the banner, IS still has not claimed responsibility for the attack.

Survivors of the bloodshed spoke to The Associated Press on Saturday in the Suez Canal city of Ismailia, where some of the wounded are hospitalized.

“We knew that the mosque was under attack,” said Mansour, a 38-year-old worker in a nearby salt factory who had settled in Bir al-Abd three years ago to escape the bloodshed and fighting elsewhere in northern Sinai. He suffered two gunshot wounds to his legs on Friday.

“Everyone lay down on the floor and kept their heads down. If you raised your head you get shot,” he said. “The shooting was random and hysterical at the beginning and then became more deliberate. Whoever they weren’t sure was dead or still breathing was shot dead.”

President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi vowed that the attack “will not go unpunished” and that Egypt would persevere with its war on terrorism. He did not specify what new steps might be taken. On Saturday, he ordered that a mausoleum be built in memory of the victims of Friday’s attack and cancelled a visit to the Gulf Sultanate of Oman that was scheduled for next week.

Egypt’s military and security forces have already been waging a tough and costly campaign against militants in the towns, villages and desert mountains of northern Sinai, and Egypt has been in a state of emergency since April. Across the country, thousands have been arrested in a crackdown on suspected Islamists as well as against other dissenters and critics, raising concerns about human rights violations.

Seeking to spread the violence, militants over the past year have carried out deadly bombings on churches in the capital of Cairo and other cities, killing dozens of Christians. Egypt’s IS affiliate has also claimed responsibility for the 2016 downing of a Russian passenger jet that killed 224 people over Sinai. That attack decimated the country’s already ailing tourism industry.

Friday’s assault was the first major militant attack on a Muslim congregation, and it eclipsed past attacks, even dating back to a previous Islamic militant insurgency in the 1990s. The death of so many civilians in one day recalls the killing of at least 600 in August 2013, when Egyptian security forces broke up two sit-in protests in Cairo by supporters of Mohammed Morsi, an Islamist president ousted by the military the previous month.

The local IS affiliate has targeted Sufis in the past. Last year, the militants beheaded a leading local Sufi figure, the blind sheikh Suleiman Abu Heraz, and posted photos of the killing online. In the January edition of an IS online magazine, the Sinai affiliate vowed to target Sufis, accusing them of idolatry and heretical “innovation” in religion and warning that the group will “not permit (their) presence” in Sinai or Egypt.

Millions of Egyptians belong to Sufi orders, which hold sessions of ritual chanting and dancing to draw the faithful closer to God. Sufis also hold shrines containing the tombs of holy men in particular reverence.

Islamic militants stepped up their campaign of violence in northern Sinai after the military ousted the elected but divisive Morsi. Authorities followed up with a fierce crackdown on his Muslim Brotherhood group, jailing thousands.

The result has been a long, grinding conflict centered on el-Arish and nearby villages and towns in north Sinai. The militants have been unable to control territory, but the military and security forces have also been unable to bring security, as the extremists continuously carry out surprise attacks, mostly targeting outposts and convoys.

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This article was written by Hamza Hendawi and Maggie Michael from The Associated Press and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

© Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Doug Jones certified as winner of Alabama Senate race

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Democrat Doug Jones was certified Thursday by Alabama’s Secretary of State as the winner of the state’s Senate race, less than an hour after a judge rejected Republican nominee Roy Moore’s last-ditch attempt to challenge the election.

Earlier Thursday, Moore’s campaign alleged potential election fraud and asked a circuit judge for a restraining order to stop Alabama’s canvassing board from certifying Jones’ victory.

A judge then denied the request, leading Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill to certify Jones’ victory.

Jones, who will be sworn in Jan. 3, celebrated the certification and vowed to be “an independent voice” for Alabama.

“I am looking forward to going to work for the people of Alabama in the new year,” Jones said in a statement. “As I said on election night, our victory marks a new chapter for our state and the nation.”

DOUG JONES WINS IN MAJOR UPSET, ROY MOORE WON’T YET CONCEDE

Jones won more than 20,000 votes than Moore in the Dec. 12 election, becoming the first Democrat to win election to the Senate from the deeply conservative state in 25 years.

A Democrat winning the special election for the seat to replace Attorney General Jeff Sessions was seen as just a remote possibility several months ago.

But Jones, a Birmingham attorney famous for prosecuting the KKK, caught a break after Moore was overwhelmed in recent weeks with multiple allegations of past sexual misconduct. Moore, the former chief justice of Alabama’s Supreme Court, faced accusations he pursued romantic relationships with teenage girls while he was in his thirties.

He has denied the claims.

Since the election, Moore has refused to concede.

Moore’s attorney wrote in the wide-ranging complaint that he believed there were irregularities during the election, including that voters may have been brought in from other states. He attached a statement from a poll worker that she had noticed licenses from Georgia and North Carolina as people signed in to vote.

The complaint also noted the higher-than-expected turnout in the race, particularly in Jefferson County, and said Moore’s numbers were suspiciously lower than straight-ticket Republican voting in about 20 Jefferson County precincts. The complaint asked for a fraud investigation and eventually a new election.

Merrill said he has so far not found any evidence of voter fraud, but he has said that his office will investigate any complaint Moore submits.

Fox News’ Griff Jenkins and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Alex Pappas is a politics reporter at FoxNews.com. Follow him on Twitter at @AlexPappas.

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Bumped United passenger fires back at Rep. Jackson Lee's racism charge, airline

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A United passenger whose first-class seat on a recent flight from Houston to D.C. was given to Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee is firing back at the Democratic congresswoman’s accusations of racism – while challenging the airline’s account of the incident.

Jean-Marie Simon, an attorney and private school teacher, became the latest face of airline passenger woes when she detailed on Facebook and later to the news media how she lost her seat to the Texas lawmaker. 

But despite a statement from United seeking to explain the switch-out, she’s not giving up the fight. And the congresswoman’s response – essentially claiming Simon made a scene because Jackson Lee, as an African-American woman, is an “easy target” – did not calm the waters. 

Simon, in an interview with Fox News, rejected the racism allegation.

“That could have been Donald Duck in my seat,” Simon, a Democrat, told Fox News on Thursday. “I could not see who had boarded the flight. I didn’t even know who she was.”

plane

Jean-Marie Simon, left, and Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas.  (Facebook)

Simon originally accused United of bumping her from her first-class seat on a Dec. 18 flight in order to accommodate the Texas congresswoman. 

At first, Simon didn’t know who was in her seat as she argued at the gate. United eventually gave her a $500 voucher and reseated her in the economy plus section. In her original Facebook post, Simon said another Texas congressman then informed her a fellow member of the delegation was in her seat, and “regularly does this” to passengers. 

‘I could not see who had boarded the flight. I didn’t even know who she was.’

– United passenger Jean-Marie Simon, responding to Rep. Jackson Lee’s racism claim

Simon proceeded to take a photo of Jackson Lee, have a tense encounter with a flight attendant who allegedly threatened to remove her — and has been battling with the airline ever since she got home. 

On one front, United claims Simon lost her seat because she canceled her flight via the app (which she denies). And on another, Jackson Lee piled on this week by reissuing her statement chalking up Simon’s discontent to racial animus. 

“Since this was not any fault of mine, the way the individual continued to act appeared to be, upon reflection, because I was an African American woman, seemingly an easy target with the African American flight attendant who was very, very nice,” she wrote. “This saddens me, especially at this time of year given all of the things we have to work on to help people. But in the spirit of this season and out of the sincerity of my heart, if it is perceived that I had anything to do with this, I am kind enough to simply say sorry.” 

Simon is focusing her energy mostly on dealing with United, not Jackson Lee, but told Fox News, “The only way she is relevant is that she has a documented history of demanding first-class service.” 

Asked for comment, Jackson Lee spokesman Rucks Russell said in a statement: “The Congresswoman regrets any inconvenience that her travel may have caused to any passenger, however the issue in question involves the passenger and United Airlines.” 

WOMAN CLAIMS TEXAS REP TOOK HER AIRLINE SEAT

The 63-year-old passenger says her beef mostly is with United and how they treated her. She also suggested the airline is trying to age-shame her.  

“I’m not some AARP grandmother who doesn’t know how to use a phone,” she said. “I know how to cancel a flight and I did not cancel this flight.”  

It’s still not entirely clear what happened that day. 

Simon used 140,000 frequent flyer miles on Dec. 3 to purchase her first-class ticket from Washington, D.C., to Guatemala and back. On her way home, she had a layover at George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston.

Simon said the attendant scanned her ticket but her reservation had been removed from the system. At that point, the member of Congress already was in first class, and Simon eventually got the economy plus seat. 

United later attributed the incident to an app cancellation by Simon. 

The official statement from the airline said they “thoroughly” examined their electronic records and “found that upon receiving a notification that Flight 788 was delayed due to weather, the customer canceled her flight from Houston to Washington, D.C. within the United mobile app.”

The statement continued, “As part of the normal pre-boarding process, gate agents began clearing standby and upgrade customers, including the first customer on the waitlist for an upgrade. We were able to provide this customer a seat on the same flight in economy plus.” 

Simon rejects the explanation. 

“Why would I ever cancel the second segment?” Simon said Thursday. “United furnished no proof that I canceled it. And why didn’t I reserve another fight?”

Though United credited her 140,000 miles, what Simon really wants is an apology from the company’s top brass.  

She tweeted that a “low level employee at a call center” said sorry over the phone but that he hadn’t even been briefed on the details of her complaint.

She also took to Facebook on Wednesday asking where’s the proof she canceled her flight. 

Asked Thursday about the discrepancies between United’s and Simon’s accounts, a United official told Fox News that their records clearly show the flight leg was canceled via the app – and not by a gate agent or other third party.

The official said their internal coding reflects the flight was canceled roughly a half-hour before the original take-off time, after it was clear the flight would be delayed over an hour. The congresswoman was then tapped for the seat because she was at the top of the upgrade list thanks to her global services status, the official said.

Though Simon adamantly denies she canceled her flight, the official said it’s possible this could have been done accidentally.

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Trump slams China over reported North Korea oil sales: 'Caught RED HANDED'

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President Trump slammed China on Thursday over the country’s reported illegal oil sales to North Korea, saying they’ve been caught “RED HANDED” and warning such incidents could diminish the odds of a “friendly solution” for Pyongyang.

“Caught RED HANDED – very disappointed that China is allowing oil to go into North Korea. There will never be a friendly solution to the North Korea problem if this continues to happen!” Trump tweeted, while on a holiday break in Florida.

U.S. spy satellites reportedly captured photos of Chinese ships illegally selling oil to North Korean boats some 30 times since October. 

REPORT: CHINA SPOTTED ILLEGALLY SELLING OIL TO N. KOREA

Satellite images released by the U.S. Department of Treasury appeared to show vessels from both countries illegally trading oil in the West Sea, The Chosun Ilbo reported Tuesday, citing South Korean government sources.

ChineseOilShips

U.S. spy satellites have captured images of what appears to be Chinese ships illegally selling oil to North Korean boats.  (U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control)

North Korea was barred in September by the United Nations Security Council from importing natural gas and had its crude oil imports capped in response to Kim Jong Un’s nuclear missile program.

The U.S. Treasury in November also sanctioned North Korea’s Maritime Administration and its transport ministry, in addition to six North Korean shipping and trading companies and 20 of their vessels, in an effort to block the rogue regime’s transportation networks.

The satellite images appear to identify the ships. One of them — Rye Song Gang 1, seen “connected to a Chinese vessel” — was included in the Nov. 21 sanctions as a vessel of Korea Kumbyol Trading Company possibly transferring oil to evade sanctions.

While Russia exports some oil to North Korea, China is the main source of oil for the rogue nation, according to Reuters. However, the country’s records reportedly showed it exported no oil products to the North during the month of November. It was reportedly the second consecutive month China didn’t export diesel or gasoline to North Korea.

NORTH KOREA CALLS UN SANCTIONS ‘AN ACT OF WAR,’ ‘RIGGED UP BY THE US’

A government source told the South Korean newspaper that, “We need to focus on the fact that the illicit trade started after a UN Security Council resolution in September drastically capped North Korea’s imports of refined petroleum products.”

Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said she had no information following Chosun’s report, but said “the Chinese government has been completely and strictly enforcing Security Council resolutions” aimed at discouraging North Korea from developing nuclear and missile technology.

Fox News’ Nicolle Darrah and The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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