Al-Qaeda’s North Africa branch claimed responsibility after six gunmen opened fire on civilians at a Cote d’Ivoire beach resort, killing at least 16 people. Bloody bodies were sprawled on the beach and witnesses described horrific scenes as a lazy Sunday afternoon was shattered by West Africa’s latest attack.
Fourteen civilians and two special forces soldiers were killed before the six assailants were gunned down in the resort of Grand Bassam. Sunday’s attack targeted three hotels in the southeastern town about 40km east of the country’s economic capital, Abidjan.
Cote d’Ivoire’s President Alassane Ouattara arrived in Grand Bassam a few hours after the shooting rampage.
“I present my condolences to the families of the people who were murdered, and of course I’m 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-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb claimed responsibility, according to the SITE Intelligence Group.
Bursts of gunfire sent people running from the beach at Grand Bassam, a UNESCO World Heritage site and popular destination for Ivorians and foreigners.
It was the third major attack on a tourism centre 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.
Nii Akeutteh, an Africa policy analyst, told Al Jazeera security officials in the region would be closely watching the situation. – Al Jazeera.