Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper The Spokesman-Review

Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
Partly Cloudy Day 24° Partly Cloudy
News >  Nation/World

Al-Qaida gunmen kill 16 at Ivory Coast hotel

Ivory Coast's President Alassane Ouattara, center, visits the area were gunmen attacked people in Grand Bassam, Ivory Coast, Sunday. (Christin Roby / Associated Press)
Ivory Coast's President Alassane Ouattara, center, visits the area were gunmen attacked people in Grand Bassam, Ivory Coast, Sunday. (Christin Roby / Associated Press)
Robbie Corey-Boulet Associated Press

GRAND-BASSAM, Ivory Coast – Armed men attacked an Ivory Coast beach resort Sunday, killing at least 16 people and sending tourists fleeing through the historic town of Grand-Bassam in an attack claimed by al-Qaida’s North Africa branch.

Ivory Coast’s President Alassane Ouattara told reporters at the scene that 14 civilians, two special forces and six assailants were killed when the gunmen stormed the beach. The president arrived in Grand-Bassam a few hours after the attack, visiting the hotels and saluting security forces for their quick response.

“I present my condolences to the families of the people who were murdered, and of course I am very proud of our security forces who reacted so fast,” Ouattara said outside the Etoile du Sud, one of the targeted hotels. “The toll could’ve been much heavier.”

Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb claimed responsibility for the attack, according to SITE Intelligence Group which monitors jihadi websites. The Islamic extremist group made the declaration in a post to its Telegram channels, calling three of the attackers “heroes” for the assault.

The bursts of gunfire sent people running from the beach at Grand-Bassam, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and popular destination for Ivorians and foreigners about 25 miles east of Abidjan, Ivory Coast’s commercial center. It was the third major attack on a tourism center in West Africa since November.

Some witnesses said the assailants fired at random, while others said the killing was more targeted. Witness Marcel Guy said gunmen raced across the beach in small groups, toting Kalashnikov rifles and hunting for victims.

One gunman, who had a long beard, approached two children on the beach and Guy said he heard the man speaking Arabic. One of the children then knelt and started praying. He was spared, while the other boy was not.

“The Christian boy was shot and killed right in front of my eyes,” Guy said.

An Associated Press reporter saw four bodies sprawled out on the beach in front of a small resort next to the Etoile du Sud hotel, which is popular with foreigners.

Jacques Able, who identified himself as the owner of Etoile du Sud, said he rushed to the hotel after getting a phone call. He said one person had been killed at the hotel.

A receptionist at the Etoile du Sud described the mayhem.

“We don’t know where they came from, and we don’t know where they’ve gone,” said the receptionist, who would not give his name.

Beachgoers could be seen lining up with their hands above their heads as they filed out of the area. Residents who heard the gunfire hid in their homes, said Josiane Sekongo, 25, who lives across from one of the town’s beachfront hotels.

An American Embassy delegation was in Grand-Bassam on Sunday, but the U.S. Embassy in Abidjan said it was monitoring the situation and had no evidence U.S. citizens were targeted or harmed.

Dozens of people were killed in the earlier attacks on West African tourist sites, starting with a siege at a Malian hotel in November and then an assault on a hotel and cafe in Burkina Faso in January. Analysts have warned for months that Ivory Coast, which shares a border with both of those affected countries, could be hit by jihadis as well.

All three West African countries are former French colonies and at least one of those killed in Grand-Bassam Sunday was French. The Paris prosecutor’s office has opened an investigation into the attack, calling it murder in connection with a terrorist enterprise. Anti-terrorism investigators will handle the probe because there was a French victim.

The United States strongly condemned the attack in Grand-Bassam, sending “thoughts and prayers to all affected by this senseless violence.” The U.S. Embassy in Abidjan is making every effort to account for the welfare of American citizens in the area, said the statement by State Department spokesman John Kirby.

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

Local journalism is essential.

Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.

Active Person

Subscribe to the Coronavirus newsletter

Get the day’s latest Coronavirus news delivered to your inbox by subscribing to our newsletter.