By Leah Cerilli
18 people were killed on March 13 after six armed militants stormed several beach resorts in Côte d’Ivoire (The Ivory Coast), according to CNN. Additionally, the New York Times reports that 33 additional people were wounded in the attacks.
Three hotels were targeted in the beach resort city of Grand Bassam. They are known for their popularity among wealthy Ivorians and Western tourists, particularly on Sundays when the attacks were carried out.
Among the dead are four French citizens, a German citizen, and three Ivorian soldiers. Three terrorists were also killed in the attack. According to USA Today, Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) claimed responsibility.
Many witnesses came forward to describe details of the attack. Witnesses saw the gunmen with Kalashnikov rifles and grenades shooting at groups of tourists on the beach and at the L’etoile du Sud, a large hotel. The Wharf and the Koral Beach hotels were targeted as well.
Witness Marcel Guy came forward saying that he saw a gunman approach two children and began to speak Arabic to them. One of the children knelt down and prayed while the other one was killed. When describing the ordeal to The Associated Press, Guy said, “The Christian boy was shot and killed right in front of my eyes.”
West Africa has been the target of Al Qaeda-linked attacks at hotels and cafes common with Westerners. In January, The Splendid Hotel in Burkina Faso was also attacked by AQIM. Westerners were also the prime targets of this attack, according to the New York Times. In a statement, they said the attack was carried out at the hotel because it is “frequented by staff of the nations of global disbelief,” and that it was intended “to punish the cross-worshippers for their crimes against our people in Central Africa, Mali, and other lands of Muslims.”
French intelligence services had previously issued an alert of an elevated risk of terror attacks in West Africa. The most recent event in Côte d’Ivoire is considered by analysts to be an indication of AQIM’s growing reach. AQIM has spread across the Sahara from Algeria and now operates in much of western and northern Africa, according to Reuters. French counter-intelligence officials have been sent to Côte d’Ivoire to offer logistical support and intelligence.
Following the attacks carried out by AQIM in Burkina Faso and Mali, Ivorian authorities have increased security in shopping malls and hotels in the economic capital Abidjan but not the nearby Grand Bassam. One longtime resident commented that “Bassam is where all the expatriates and middle class of Abidjan gather on the weekends. We don’t understand why this wasn’t a priority for protection.”
All of the recent attacks by AQIM are viewed as a response to France’s military interference in Mali. Nearly 20,000 French citizens live in Côte d’Ivoire, and about 3,000 French soldiers are stationed in West Africa. France’s foreign minister has made plans to travel to the region, as many are concerned where AQIM will strike next