Al Qaeda gunmen kill 16 in Ivory Coast beach attack

Four Europeans among the dead at beach resort town targeting Grand Bassam hotels

A security officer walks on the beach after an attack in Grand Bassam, Ivory Coast, on Sunday. Photograph: Reuters/Joe Penney

A security officer walks on the beach after an attack in Grand Bassam, Ivory Coast, on Sunday. Photograph: Reuters/Joe Penney

 

Gunmen from the North African branch of al-Qaeda killed 16 people, including four Europeans, at a beach resort town in Ivory Coast yesterday, 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 40km (25 miles) east of the commercial capital Abidjan, before being killed in clashes with Ivorian special forces.

“Six attackers came onto the beach in Bassam this afternoon,” said Ivorian president Alassane Ouattara during a visit to the site. “We have 14 civilians and two special forces soldiers who were unfortunately killed.”

A French man was killed, according to a French foreign ministry spokesman. The nationalities of the other dead was not yet known, but four were European, one officer said at a briefing.

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

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

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

“They started shooting and everyone just started running. There were women and children running and hiding,” said another witness, Marie Bassole. “It started on the beach. Whoever they saw, they shot at.”

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.

French president François Hollande pledged support yesteday denouncing the shootings as a “cowardly attack”.

“France will bring its logistical support and intelligence to Ivory Coast to find the attackers. It will pursue and intensify its cooperation with its partners in the fight against terrorism,” Mr Hollande said in a statement. – (Reuters)