Ivory Coast holds crisis talks after deadly Al Qaeda attack
Condemnation of the attack in the historic town of Grand Bassam flooded in from around the world with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon pledging to help the government “in its efforts to bring the perpetrators of these crimes to justice.”
The United States also vowed help to track down the attackers and fight “terrorists who seek to undermine efforts by West African governments to build tolerant and inclusive societies.”
Armed with grenades and assault rifles, the assailants stormed three hotels in the former colonial capital of Ivory Coast, the world’s top cocoa producer, spraying bullets across the beach.
Witnesses described panic in the town, about 40 kilometres (25 miles) from the commercial capital Abidjan.
Grand-Bassam is packed on weekends with visitors drawn by the magnificent beaches as well as the UNESCO-listed French colonial-era buildings.
Inside one of the hotels, which was full of expats sheltering from the current heatwave, an AFP journalist saw a bullet lodged in the glass front of the bar’s refrigerator and a large pool of blood on the floor.
Carine Boa, a Belgian-Ivorian national who teaches at an international high school in Abidjan, was at one of the beach bars with her two sons when the gunmen arrived.
“We were really scared. We thought of the people at the Bataclan,” she said, referring to the concert venue attacked by gunmen during the November’s terror attacks in the French capital when 130 people were killed.
“I thought this was it for us. You always tell yourselves that these things can’t happen.”
Another witness told AFP an assailant shouted “Allahu Akbar” — Arabic for “God is greatest — during the attack.
“I saw one of the attackers from far away,” said Abbas El-Roz, a Lebanese salesman, who was in the pool of a hotel when the attackers struck.
“He had a Kalashnikov and a grenade belt. He was looking for people.”
– ‘Terrorist attack’ –
Fourteen civilians and two special forces troops were killed in the shooting spree, along with six assailants, according to Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara, who described it as a “terrorist” attack.
One French and one German national were among the dead.
Former colonial master France also offered to help find the perpetrators, with French President Francois Hollande condemning the “cowardly attack”.
The US-based SITE Intelligence Group said Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), the terror group’s North African affiliate, had claimed responsibility.
AQIM said in a statement three of its fighters had been killed.
West African nations have scrambled to boost security after jihadist attacks in the capitals of Mali and Burkina Faso, which were also claimed by the group.
Fears have been growing of terrorist attacks and the recently concluded Flintlock military exercise, grouping African, US and European troops, focused on the need to counter jihadism in the region.
Sunday’s attack bore grim similarities to the Islamist gun and grenade assault on a Tunisian beach resort last June, which left 38 foreign holidaymakers dead.
– Attacking major cities –
Robert Besseling of Exx Africa, a specialist intelligence company, said that the attacks should not have come as a complete surprise.
“Cote d’Ivoire has been receiving warnings for at least a year from France’s intelligence service that Islamist militants are planning to attack major cities,” said Besseling, using the French name for Ivory Coast.
“Details gained from intercepted communications and human sources have revealed that Islamist groups are considering using car bombs, attacking public areas popular with foreigners, and targeting beaches in Cote d’Ivoire and Senegal, which both have substantially more Western expatriates and visitors than the Sahelian countries previously targeted,” he said.
Gunmen killed 30 people in Burkina Faso’s capital Ouagadougou in January, while an attack in Mali the previous November left 20 dead.
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