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Egyptian forces given three months to restore stability after mosque attack

Egyptian president Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi has given security forces three months to restore "security and stability" in the northern Sinai area days after the worst attack in the country's modern history.

In a televised ceremony marking the birthday of Islam's Prophet Muhammad, Mr el-Sissi authorised his new chief of staff, Major General Mohammed Farid Hegazy, to use "all brute force" against the militants.

Mr Hegazy, appointed last month, rose up from his front-row seat and stood in rigid attention as Mr el-Sissi, a general-turned-president, addressed him.

"I am mandating Major General Mohammed Farid Hegazy before you and the entire people of Egypt to restore security and stability in Sinai," said Mr el-Sissi.

"With God's benevolence and your efforts and sacrifices, you and the police will restore security and use all brute force."

This is the second time since Friday's massacre in a sleepy Sinai village that el-Sissi ordered the use of "brute force" against the militants.

The attack on a mosque in the northern Sinai village of al-Rawdah was the deadliest assault by Islamic extremists in Egypt's modern history. Among the 305 dead were 27 children; another 128 people were wounded.

The Islamic State (IS) group has not yet claimed responsibility for the mosque attack but the more than two dozen gunmen who unleashed explosives and gunfire to mow down the worshippers during Friday prayers carried the black banner of the IS militant group.

The mosque belonged to followers of Islam's mystical Sufi movement, considered by IS to be heretics. Militants have in the past targeted them in Sinai as well as elsewhere, like in Iraq.

Mr el-Sissi has frequently said Islamic militants have benefited from the care his security forces routinely take to ensure that civilians are not caught in the cross-fire.

However, rights groups and Sinai activists have in the past spoken of civilians enduring collective punishment, usually in the aftermath of major attacks, and of hardships resulting from military operations, including lengthy power, water and phone outages.

Giving his security forces a three-month deadline to quieten Sinai may turn out to be a risky gamble by Mr el-Sissi, who is widely expected to seek a second, four-year term in office in elections due in less than six months.

Failure in Sinai would dent the president's standing as the general who won office in a 2014 election mostly on promises of restoring security.

However, only state-owned Egyptian media with unquestionable loyalty to the government are allowed to travel to northern Sinai, leaving authorities in near-total control of the narrative on how the war there is going.

AP

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