Abidjan – France vowed on Tuesday to step up anti-terrorist cooperation in Africa after al-Qaeda’s North African branch said it carried out a deadly weekend attack on an Cote d’Ivoire beach resort.
“We must reinforce our cooperation so that the terrorists have no chance” of success, said French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault who arrived in Abidjan earlier on Tuesday along with Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve.
The two ministers flew in after Sunday’s attack on the Grand-Bassam resort that left 18 people dead, among them four French nationals.
Thirty-three people were wounded in the attack, 26 of whom are still in hospital.
After visiting some of the wounded, the French ministers met with Ivorian Defence Minister Alain-Richard Donwahi and Interior Minister Hamed Bakayoko.
Also in Abidjan as a mark of solidarity were Benin President Thomas Boni Yayi and Togolese counterpart Faure Gnassingbe, who urged a regional response to terror.
“You don’t fight terrorism alone… there are national responses which are important but they must be complemented and amplified by a regional and international response,” Gnassignbe said.
“Alone, none can defeat terrorism.”
“Terrorism falls under international jurisdiction,” agreed Benin’s president.
Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Magreb (AQIM) said the shooting rampage was one of a series of operations “targeting dens of espionage and conspiracies”.
It directly threatened France and its allies in the region in warning that nations involved in the anti-insurgent “Operation Barkhane” and the 2013 French-led “Operation Serval” in Mali would “receive a response”, with their “criminal leaders” and interests targeted, according to the SITE group which monitors extremist groups.
“Regarding [Operation] Barkhane . . . we have decided to station GIGN elements who in the event of attack in the region will be able intervene quickly and provide training in circumstances of serious terrorist crisis,” to achieve a coordinated response, Cazeneuve said.
GIGN is a French paramilitary unit.
He said rapid intervention units could follow and that if necessary, France would “go beyond” mere coordination, without giving further details.
French President Francois Hollande had on Sunday vowed to “intensify cooperation” in African states hit by insurgencies.
Barkhane, which succeeded Serval in 2014, has at least 3,500 soldiers deployed across five countries – Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger – to combat jihadist insurgencies.
AQIM warned Ivory Coast and all allies of France in the region that their “crimes will not pass without a response.” The group issued a wider threat to Western nationals to leave Muslim lands or “we will destroy your security and the security of your citizens”.
The group had also claimed the attack on a top hotel and a nearby restaurant in the Burkina Faso capital in January that killed 30 people, and a hostage siege in the Malian capital Bamako in November that cost 20 lives.
The Ivorian government said on Tuesday it remained unsure of how many assailants carried out Sunday’s shooting.
“We are still looking. We must be transparent. We want to be sure,” Interior Minister Hamed Bakayoko said.
Abidjan says it killed three gunmen but some witnesses reported seeing as many as seven attackers.
“We don’t suspect more but we’re making sure we carry out the widest possible sweep,” Bakayoko said. – AFP