Al Qaeda gunmen kill 16 in Ivory Coast beach attack

Al Qaeda gunmen kill 16 in Ivory Coast beach attack
Police and forensic investigators examine scene of Grand Bassam attack that killed 16 people, including two Ivorian special forces soldiers. PHOTO: Reuters

Gunmen from the North African branch of Al Qaeda killed 16 people, including four Europeans, at a beach resort town in Ivory Coast on Sunday (March 13), the latest in a string of deadly attacks across West Africa.

Six shooters targeted hotels on a beach at Grand Bassam, a weekend retreat popular with westerners about 40 km (25 miles) east of the commercial capital Abidjan, before being killed in clashes with Ivorian special forces.

Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara during a visit to the site said 14 civilians and two special forces soldiers were killed.

A French man was killed in the attack, according to a French foreign ministry spokesman. The nationalities of the other dead was not yet known, but four were European, one officer said during a briefing attended by a Reuters reporter.

The reporter saw the bodies of three white people at Grand Bassam’s Chelsea Hotel and another in the Hotel Etoile du Sud next door.

A U.S. State Department spokesperson, who declined to be further identified, said the department was not aware of any U.S. citizen being injured or killed in the attack “at this time.”

Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), which has carried out other recent attacks in the region, claimed responsibility for Sunday’s shootings, according to the U.S.-based SITE intelligence monitoring group, citing an AQIM statement.

Gunmen all dressed in black opened fire around lunchtime while people were eating and drinking at the beachside bars and restaurants or swimming in the ocean.

Shocked eyewitnesses described their experience.

“He arrived near my young brother (friend) who was in communication (on the phone) and he shot one bullet in the head, when he shot at him in the head he shouted “Allahu Akbar”, at that moment the three others arrived and started to shoot,” said Kouakou Bertin.

“Truly, truly it was terrifying, it was truly terrorists because the people that we were with us told us that once these men started to speak in Arabic at that moment they knew that it was terrorists, we never thought that this could happen here under these circumstances, it’s truly not easy, it’s not easy, it’s not easy,” said Yapi Marie Claire, crying.

Security forces moved to evacuate the area surrounding the beach. Bullet holes riddled vehicles nearby and some windows had been shot out.

Barely two months ago, Islamist fighters killed dozens of people in a hotel and cafe frequented by foreigners in neighbouring Burkina Faso’s capital, Ouagadougou. Gunmen also attacked a hotel in the Malian capital Bamako late last year.

Both of those attacks were claimed by AQIM, raising concern that Islamist militants were extending their reach beyond their traditional zones of operation in the Sahara and arid Sahel region.

Though previously untouched by Islamist violence, Ivory Coast, French-speaking West Africa’s largest economy and the world’s top cocoa producer, has long been considered a target for militants. It has been on high alert since the Ouagadougou attacks.

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