Sixteen people were killed Sunday as six gunmen attacked beachgoers outside three hotels Sunday in Grand-Bassam, sending tourists fleeing through the historic Ivory Coast resort town. Bloody bodies were sprawled on the beach in photos apparently taken at the scene and posted on social media.
In a visit to the site of one of the attacks, Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara said 14 civilians and two special-forces soldiers were killed in the attack. The six terrorists were also killed.
Later Sunday evening, SITE Intelligence Group, an organization that monitors jihadist websites, said that al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb claimed responsibility for the attack. SITE said that the terrorist group made the declaration in a post to its Telegram channels, calling three of the attackers “heroes” for the assault on the Grand Bassam beach resort.
The bursts of gunfire sent people running from the beach at Grand-Bassam, a UNESCO World Heritage site and popular destination for Ivorians and foreigners about 25 miles east of Abidjan, Ivory Coast’s commercial center. It was the third major attack on a tourism center in a West African country since November.
“We don’t know where they came from, and we don’t know where they’ve gone,” said a receptionist at the Etoile de Sud hotel in Grand-Bassam. Everyone in the hotel was safe, and gendarmerie were present, he said. He would not give his name.
Beachgoers could be seen lining up with their hands above their heads as they filed out of the area. Residents who heard the gunfire hid in their homes, said Josiane Sekongo, 25, who lives across from one of the many beachfront hotels.
An American embassy delegation was in Grand-Bassam on Sunday, but the U.S. Embassy in Abidjan said it is monitoring the situation and has no evidence U.S. citizens were targeted, nor confirmed reports that any were harmed.
Dozens of people were killed in the earlier attacks on West African tourist sites, starting with a siege at a Malian hotel in November and then an assault on a hotel and cafe in Burkina Faso in January. Analysts have warned for months that Ivory Coast, which shares a border with both of those affected countries, could be hit by jihadists as well. The West African attacks indicate that terror attacks are spreading from North Africa, where a beach attack in June killed 38 people in Tunisia.
“I have always said that Abidjan (Ivory Coast) and Dakar (Senegal) are the next targets for jihadist groups because these two countries represent windows of France in Africa,” said Lemine Ould M. Salem, an expert on al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb and author of the book, The Bin Laden of the Sahara.
He said the attackers could be from Moktar Belmoktar’s al-Mourabitoun, but that Boko Haram should not be ruled out. The Nigeria-based Boko Haram pledged loyalty to the Islamic State last year.
Updated Sunday, March 13, 2016 at 3:05 pm