Gunmen Carry Out Deadly Attack on Ivory Coast Beach Resort

Terrorists stormed a beach town in Ivory Coast, killing at least 12 people, state media reported, in what the government said appeared to be the latest attack by an al Qaeda affiliate on a West African hotel or vacation spot.

The attack began Sunday afternoon, along the palm tree-lined shore of Grand Bassam, a weekend getaway where wealthier Ivorians escape the nearby city of Abidjan. The old colonial town, a Unesco World Heritage site, is also popular with smaller crowds of expatriates, particularly from France, the country that ruled Ivory Coast until 1960.

At least two gunmen ran along the beach, shooting at sunbathers outside the Étoile du Sud Hotel, Radiodiffusion Télévision Ivoirienne, the state broadcaster, reported. The government later said it killed six terrorists in the attack.

Images from the scene authenticated by news-verification service Storyful showed three bloodied corpses clad in bathing suits and splayed on the beach. One video showed dozens of panicked vacationers and hotel staff running away from the shore into the hotel complex while chatter through walkie-talkies could be heard off camera.

The 12 people killed included at least five foreigners and a child, the government said. The office of French President François Hollande said his country denounced the attack, which killed “at least one Frenchman. France would provide logistical and intelligence support to find those responsible, it added.

The U.S. Embassy in Ivory Coast said in a tweet that it was monitoring the situation but that there was no evidence American citizens were targeted nor confirmed reports that citizens had been harmed.

Al Qaeda’s allies in West Africa have staged multiple attacks in the past year on the hotels where foreigners go to conduct business. Twice in the past four months, gunmen from al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb have attacked hotels in Mali and Burkina Faso, two landlocked countries north of Ivory Coast that are deeply engaged in West Africa’s war against terrorists.

But the assault on Ivory Coast, a thriving, peaceful democracy and one of the world’s fastest-growing economies, far removed from the religious conflict shaking West Africa, was the first in the region to be so apparently targeted at locals.

Imad Mesdoua, a London-based analyst at Africa Matters, a research consultancy, said the attack appeared to fit a familiar pattern of recent strikes in West and North Africa that have hit soft targets in order to maximize casualties.

“It could be al Qaeda-affiliated groups or other militant organizations, but certainly based on the images we’re seeing, the weaponry that was used points to parallels to the attacks in Tunisia and Mali and Burkina Faso,” Mr. Mesdoua said.

“In January of this year after the Mali and Burkina attacks, the french security apparatus sent out a warning to Ivory Coast and Senegal that their urban centers were high on the list for terror attacks. The common denominator are soft targets,” he added.

Most of the people killed weren’t foreigners conducting business, but ordinary Ivorians, passing a Sunday afternoon by the shore. By attacking the resort town, the gunmen struck at the joie de vivre of Ivory Coast, a nation renowned within French-speaking Africa for its music, food, club culture and beaches, analysts said.

“It’s a weekend casual spot that’s for everyone, whether it’s expats or Ivoirians. This was calculated to strike fear,” said Ayso van Eysinga, West Africa researcher at New York’s Eurasia Group. “Unfortunately, it’s something we’re going to have to anticipate more and more,” said J. Peter Pham, Africa director at the Washington-based Atlantic Council. “Attacking a beach front.…These are not challenging operations. They can be pulled off by a terrorist group with fairly limited investment.” Source: The Wall Street Journal

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