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Ivory Coast vows regional cooperation in terror fightback

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2016-03-15

Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara pledged to work with regional and international partners to fight terrorism Monday, as more shocking details emerged about the country’s first-ever Islamic terrorist attack.

The death toll has now climbed to 18 from the atrocity at the beachside resort of Grand-Bassam, a destination popular with the Ivorian elite, tourists and Western expats.

Armed with grenades and assault rifles, at least three jihadists gunned down unsuspecting swimmers and sunbathers on the beach, before targeting tourists at three nearby hotels.

"The Ivory Coast will not allow itself to be intimidated by terrorists", Ouattara said in a statement broadcast on radio and television. "Ivory Coast is standing up, standing up to fight the cowards and protect its people."

The president vowed to work with countries in the region, the continent and with our "other international partners to reinforce our cooperation to fight these terrorists".

Interior Minister Hamed Bakayoko said Ivory Coast would observe a three-day national mourning period starting Monday.

He said the West African nation would boost security at "strategic sites and in public places... (such as) schools, embassies, international institutions... and the borders."

Gunned down deaf boy

Meanwhile, details emerged as witnesses recounted the bloody episode to police and media, including that the attackers sat down to drink beer at a bar for around half an hour before launching the assault.

Fifteen civilians and three members of the special forces were killed, while another 33 people were wounded in the attack.

Returning to scene of 'Black Sunday'

Witness Christian Eddy said four men arrived in a Ford saloon car at the beachside bar where he works around noon on Sunday. While two remained outside, the two others entered and drank beers for around a half hour.

“They didn’t speak French. They spoke Arabic. We communicated with them in English .... The guys who were still outside started shooting and the two seated at the table yelled ‘Allahu Akbar’ and flipped over the table,” he told Reuters.

He said the first victim was a boy who was made to kneel before he was shot. Bar staff tried to warn a deaf boy who was playing nearby.

“People were yelling ‘Come over here!’ But he didn’t know what was happening and just went down to the water. They shot him in the water,” Eddy said.

Four French nationals killed

The gunmen then moved up the beach, continuing their killing spree.

Surveillance footage from Hotel Etoile du Sud showed the initial panic in the hotel bar as the first shots rang out.

Staff crouched and then fled along with customers, among them parents carrying babies or leading young children by the hand.

A man, apparently disguised as a waiter in a red waistcoat over a white dress shirt, entered with a rifle, fired at the empty bar and disappeared behind it, where a Lebanese man had been hiding. More gunshots were then heard.

The first police officers arrived on the scene around 15 minutes after the shooting began, witnesses said. Security forces arrived from Abidjan around half an hour later.

The victims included foreign citizens from Burkina Faso, Cameroon, France, Germany and Mali.

Among the dead was Henrike Grohs, 51, head of the Abidjan branch of Germany’s Goethe Institut cultural body.

France’s President Francois Hollande said four French nationals were killed in the attack. The French government had earlier said just one of its citizens had died.

Interior Minister Bakayoko sais "three terrorists were killed" in the police operation.

Asked whether more gunmen were involved – some witnesses had reported several attackers – the minister said "we're still looking. We don't suspect more but we're making sure we carry out the widest possible sweep."

Al Qaeda's growing reach in West Africa

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, REUTERS)

Date created : 2016-03-15

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