Four French nationals were among the 18 people killed in Sunday’s attack on an Ivory Coast resort town, the French presidential office announced Monday. The assault was claimed by al Qaeda’s North African branch.
French President François Hollande confirmed the death toll of French nationals in a statement released shortly after a telephone conversation with his Ivorian counterpart, Alassane Ouattara.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault and Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve are set to arrive in the Ivorian commercial capital of Abidjan Tuesday to “demonstrate France’s solidarity” with Ivorian “initiatives against terrorism”, the statement added.
Returning to scene of 'Black Sunday'
Sunday’s attack targeting foreign nationals and foreign interests was the latest in a recent spate of assaults in West African nations to be claimed by al Qaeda’s North African branch, AQIM (al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb). However Ivory Coast, the world’s largest cocoa exporting nation with a burgeoning economy, had never been targeted by the Islamist group before.
In a message posted online earlier Monday, AQIM hailed the “martyrdom” of three “heroes” who stormed the Grand-Bassam resort, according to US-based SITE Intelligence Group.
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.
Besides the French nationals, the victims of Sunday’s attack included citizens from 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.
Ouattara on Monday declared three days of national mourning.
‘A war between AQIM and France’
"It was truly, truly, terrifying, it was indeed terrorists,” witness 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.”
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.
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.
Al Qaeda's growing reach in West Africa
Hollande has 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 : 2016-03-14