Militants have killed at least 16 people in a gun attack on a beach resort in southern Ivory Coast.
The attackers fired on beach-goers in Grand Bassam, about 40km (25 miles) from the commercial capital Abidjan. The resort is popular with both locals and foreigners. Four of the dead were Westerners, including a French and a German national, officials say.
Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) said it launched the attack. The gunmen have been “neutralised”, officials say.
Ivory Coast was once one of the most stable countries in West Africa.
However, a civil war broke out in 2002, pitting the mainly Muslim north against the largely Christian south. Since then, peace deals have alternated with renewed violence. The attack confirms the fears of the Ivorian government, which has attempted to beef up security, particularly in its northern border regions, to keep Islamist militants out. Grand Bassam is right in the south on the Atlantic coast, though. That shows that the militants have not just crossed the border but they might have an even greater presence in the country. It furthers prove the capacity of jihadists to blend into the public and strike soft targets.
This threat is spreading across West Africa. To halt it, regional governments would need to step up their act in policing, as well as gathering intelligence and acting on it individually and collectively. France, too, is likely to boost its military campaign to protect its vast and entrenched interests in its former colonies.
A witness to Sunday’s attack told AFP news agency that “heavily armed men wearing balaclavas” had opened fire near the L’Etoile du Sud hotel, which was full of expats. Fourteen of those killed were civilians and two were soldiers, officials say. Interior Minister Hamed Bakayoko four of the civilians were Westerners, and included a French and a German national.
There is no word on the nationalities of the other victims. French President Francois Hollande condemned the “cowardly attack”.
The Ivory Coast has been identified as one of several countries in West Africa at risk of being targeted by Islamist militants. AQIM claimed deadly attacks on luxury hotels in Mali in November and Burkina Faso in January.
The group, which has its origin in Algeria’s civil war of the 1990s, has expanded across the Sahel regions south of the Sahara in recent years.