Al Qaeda’s North African affiliate claimed Sunday’s deadly attack by gunmen on the Ivory Coast beach resort of Grand-Bassam, in which at least 18 people, including three special forces soldiers, were killed, according to Ivorian officials.
One witness also told AFP that they heard one of the assailants shouting “Allahu Akbar” – Arabic for “God is greatest” during the deadly assault.
The attack, which targeted three hotels popular among westerners about 40 km (25 miles) east of the commercial capital Abidjan, resulted in the deaths of 15 civilians and three special forces troops.
Speaking to reporters Monday following an emergency meeting, Ivorian Interior Minister Hamed Bakayoko said “three terrorists” had been killed, appearing to confirm the information in the AQIM statement.
The victims of Sunday’s attack included foreign citizens from France, Germany, Burkina Faso, Mali and Cameroon. According to Bakayo, Ivorian authorities were in possession of a mobile phone they hoped would prove a valuable lead in finding those responsible for the attack.
"It was truly, truly, terrifying, it was indeed terrorists,” eyewitness Marie-Claire Yapi, who was separated from her nine-month old baby and her sister in the chaos, told FRANCE 24. “Someone said to me: 'Run, this is serious – they are killing everyone.' The people who were there told us that once these men started speaking in Arabic, at that moment they thought that it was terrorists."
‘A war between AQIM and France’
Wassim Nasr, FRANCE 24’s expert on jihadi movements, said that the attack should be considered part of the group’s war against the West, especially France.
“We should look at this as a war between jihadi groups – especially al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb – and France,” he said. “They target wherever they see French interests, or French or [other] Western citizens. They are trying to export their war to Western Africa. So I suspect that more attacks will happen in this region.”
‘A war between AQIM and France’
The deadly assault bore grim similarities to other recent attacks in West Africa. Barely two months ago, Islamists killed dozens of people in a hotel and café 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 also claimed by AQIM and raised concerns that militants were extending their reach far beyond their traditional zones of operation in the Sahara and the 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.
As the scale of the tragedy become evident, regional and world leaders expressed their support for Ivory Coast, which has recently emerged from a decade of political turmoil and civil war to become one of the world’s fastest growing economies.
France’s President François Hollande denounced the shootings in the former French colony 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,” he said in a statement.
President Macky Sall of Senegal, another country considered a likely target for AQIM, called upon West African countries to step up their cooperation against terrorism and violent extremism.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP, REUTERS)
Date created : 2016-03-13