Monday, 14 March 2016

Gunmen Kill 16 'Including Four Europeans' in Grand Bassam Beach Resort, Ivory Coast

The Etoile du Sud hotel was targeted
Gunmen wearing balaclavas stormed three popular hotels at a beach resort in Ivory Coast on Sunday, killing as many as 16 people including four Europeans.

Beachgoers were filmed screaming and running into nearby hotels for cover as up to four gunmen sprayed bullets indiscriminately while shouting “Allahu Akbar”.

Witnesses described the attackers as African, armed with Kalashnikovs and grenade belts and dressed in casual clothes who shot at “anyone they could find” as they “calmly” walked along the packed beachfront of Grand Bassam, 25 miles east of the capital Abidjan at lunchtime on Sunday.

At least one is thought to have been killed as they met police and a shootout ensured. At around 6.30pm local time, an army officer in Grand Bassam said two attackers were encircled by special forces.

The attack is the third on West African establishments popular with Westerners since November. In November, the Radisson Blu in Mali’s capital Bamako was targeted in an attack which left 20 dead, then in January gunmen entered the Hotel Splendid and nearby Cappuccino Café in Burkina Faso's capital Ouagadougou, killing 30.

Ivory Coast's government says that security forces have "neutralised" six armed men who staged attacks which killed two soldiers among civilians.

Hamed Bakayoko, state minister, said in a statement posted to the government Twitter that security sweeps are underway and a toll of people killed and injured will be announced in the coming hours.

On Sunday night, al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) were understood to have claimed responsibility for the attack on the Telegram app.

François Hollande, French president, said in a statement that he "strongly condemns the cowardly attack that caused the death of at least ten civilians, including at least one French national, and several members of the security forces in Grand Bassam".

Local media cited a hotel employee named JB Beugré as saying that the gunmen arrived by fishing boat and their attack lasted three hours. According to a doctor at Bassam's main hospital, two dead and 17 injured people had been brought in.

The latest attack also bore similarities to an attack by Islamic State in the Levant in June 2015 on the Tunisian beach resort of Sousse, which claimed 38 lives of mainly British tourists.

Responsibility for the two West African incidents was claimed by AQIM which vowed to carry out more attacks.

Braman Kinda took pictures showing seven bodies including at least one woman lying prone on the beach and said he saw four attackers who "roamed the beach firing shots".

"We were on the beach, we heard the gunshots and we saw people fleeing - we understood this was an attack," he told AFP.

At least one assailant was killed, several witnesses reported. Another witness, Kouamena Kakou Bertin, said three others fled on foot via a nearby road. "Search operations are continuing, the hotel has been secured," a police source told AFP. 

A worker in one of the hotels on the beach in Grand Bassam told the Telegraph by telephone that he had seen at least six bodies on the sand and two male attackers armed with Kalashnikovs.

The bodies were those of white Europeans, Africans and Lebanese, said Lacina Ouattara, who works at the Wharf Hotel.

"They started at the Etoile du Sud hotel and then made their way along the beach, which was packed as it was Sunday afternoon," he said.

They passed in front of the Wharf hotel, "shooting at anyone they could find" and sparking panic among the beach-goers who tried to flee to the nearby string of beachfront hotels.

"I saw two men with guns. Kalashnikovs. Their faces were bare and I could see they were Africans. They were in their thirties and were dressed in civilian clothes," said Mr Ouattara. "They shouted Allahu Akhbar as they moved along the beach."

He said they were intercepted by police as they reached La Paillote Hotel and a shootout ensued.
"A policeman later told me that one of the attackers was killed and the other had escaped," he said.
Yves Losseau, a Belgian national, was on the beach at Grand Bassam when the attackers struck.
"We tried to take refuge in the hotel building," he told Belgian national radio.

"Then I saw one of the attackers approach the hotel garden and I saw him shoot dead a European woman. Then I saw another young man running towards the hotel who was also shot, but he kept moving afterwards so he was still alive.

"That happened 60-80 metres way from us. After the attacker shot the woman, he walked away calmly". 

Local journalists described seeing around a dozen injured people evacuated from the beach in a military truck as Ivorian soldiers and police, and soldiers from the French contingent stationed there rushed to the scene.

Photographs showed at least three bodies stacked in the back of a pick-up truck.
Cocoa-producing Ivory Coast, a former French colony with a large French community still, is one of the world’s fastest-growing economies following a turbulent few months during an electoral standoff in 2010. 

Analysts have been warning for some time that its relative wealth in the region, popularity as a hub for Western agencies and relatively lax security could make it a target for jihadists based in Mali, along with Senegal.

Lemine Ould M. Salem, an expert on al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb and author of a book The Bin Laden of the Sahara, said Sunday’s attack would either be claimed al-Mourabitoun, the al-Qaeda-linked group which carried out the Burkina Faso and Mali attacks, or Boko Haram, the terror group based in Nigeria.

"I have always said that Abidjan and Dakar (the capital of Senegal) are the next targets for jihadist groups because these two countries represent windows of France in Africa," he said. 

Culled from: Telegraph Newspaper

Image credit: BBC