Eyewitnesses describe Ivory Coast beach resort atrocity

Issouf Sanogo, AFP | Residents of the seaside resort of Grand Bassam in Ivory Coast flee a terrorist attack on March 13, 2016

Western tourists and beachgoers described scenes of panic and carnage on Sunday as al Qaeda-linked gunmen opened fire, killing 18 people, including three special forces soldiers, at a usually sleepy seaside town in Ivory Coast.


Grand-Bassam, a UNESCO World Heritage site that attracts foreigners and the Ivorian elite, briefly became a war zone Sunday as al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) gunmen shot beachgoers.

“We were eating, when suddenly we heard gunshots. People where running in all directions and we didn’t know what was going on”, one witness told FRANCE 24.

“The shots started getting closer and we saw people coming our way. I told my wife ‘we can’t stay here’, and 20 seconds after that they killed three people behind us”, he said.

"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.'”

Ivorian officials said six terrorists stormed the beach, but AQIM praised its three “heroes” for the attack in an online statement.

>>> For more on the attack, read our coverage of the day's events.

‘A blast every 10 to 15 seconds’

“It all started down by the beach, as soon as they saw someone they would open fire. Everyone began running. There were women and children running and looking for a place to hide,” witness Marie Bassole told Reuters.

Koumena Kakou Bertin said that he heard the attackers shouting “Allahu Akbar”, Arabic for “God is great”, as they sprayed the beach with bullets.

Charles-Philippe d’Orleans, a retired French army officer who served in the Ivory Coast, was also on the beach at the moment of the attack.

“We could hear a blast every 10 to 15 seconds. They were shooting at us and the bullets were flying everywhere”, he told French weekly Paris Match.

“I did not hear shouts of ‘Allahu Akbar’, nor did I hear repeated bursts of gunfire that are usual for automatic weapons. I think they had handguns, like 9 mm or Magnums” he added.

Beach packed due to heatwave

After targetting swimmers and sunbathers, the gunmen turned their attention to hotels near the shore, including the Grand Bassam's Chelsea Hotel and the Hotel Etoile du Sud.

The Etoile du Sud was packed full of beachgoers and expats escaping the current heatwave when the gunmen attacked.

“I saw one of the attackers from far away”, said Abbas El-Roz, a Lebanese salesman, who was swimming in the hotel’s pool when the attackers struck. “He had a Kalashnikov and a grenade belt. He was looking for people”.

Ivorians and Europeans among victims

Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara praised special forces for regaining control of the situation in a relatively short amount of time. “This attack was brought under control in 45 minutes thanks to our security forces,” he said on national television.

Three special forces soldiers were killed in the gun battle with the attackers, Ivorian officials said.

‘A war between AQIM and France’

Four Europeans were also among the dead, with France’s foreign ministry confirming that one French national died in the attack.

The assault itself resembled the terrorist attack on a Tunisian beach resort in June 2015, and comes on the heels of similar deadly incidents in Mali and Burkina Faso.

“Most of the victims are Africans, Africans from Ivory Coast or from neighbouring countries”, French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said in a statement on Sunday.

“So it is once again Africa that has been targeted by terrorism”, he added.

However, FRANCE 24’s expert on jihadi movements Wassim Nasr, said the attack should be considered part of al Qaeda’s war against the West, and France in particular.

“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,” Nasr added.

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