Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) has claimed responsibility for an attack on three Ivory Coast resorts on Sunday that at least killed 16 people on Sunday, according to a group that monitors violent Islamist extremists.
"By the grace of Allah and His granting of success, three heroes from the knights of Qaedat al-Jihad in the Islamic Maghreb were able to storm the tourist resort 'Grand Bassam,' situated east of the city of Abidjan, in Ivory Coast." The SITE Intelligence Group said was the translation of a message posted on AQIM's "telegram channels."
Earlier, Ivory Coast President Alassane Tuatara said all six heavily armed attackers were killed in addition to civilians and security force personnel.
"Six attackers came onto the beach in Bassam this afternoon... We have 14 civilians and two special forces soldiers who were unfortunately killed," he said. he said.
The stretch of beach in Grand Bassam running along the front of several luxury resorts is a popular weekend destination for African and Western tourists, as well as for those looking to escape the heat of the city.
A witness told AFP that the assailants were "heavily armed and wearing balaclavas." Some witnesses say they heard cries of "Allahu Akbar" during the attack.
"For the moment, we have a total of 12 dead, including four Europeans," an officer told security officials after the attacks during a briefing that Reuters was present at. "We don't know yet if there are others. We are doing clean-up operations right now." In a statement on Facebook, the Ivorian government said five Ivorian men, five women of unknown nationality and one child had been injured.
The army came to provide reinforcements in the chaotic aftermath of the shooting, which lasted for about half an hour.
No information about the gunmen has been released yet and no group has claimed responsibility for the attack so far. Six attackers have reportedly been neutralized, according to the Interior Ministry. "Sweeps are underway and a detailed assessment will be communicated in the coming hours" said Interior Minister Hamed Bakayoko.
Local residents and tourists were evacuated from the beach area by the army and taken to undisclosed hotels, which were temporarily put on lockdown. People have since been released.
France warned the Ivory Coast and Senegal that militants were planning to attack cities in West African countries, people familiar with intelligence reports told Bloomberg in January. French officials said fighters were considering car bombs, and attacking areas that are popular with foreigners such as beach resorts. The sources who gave this information to Bloomberg asked to remain anonymous.
Last November, militants from AQIM attacked a hotel popular with foreigners in Mali's capital, taking 170 hostage and killing 20. In January, 29 people of 18 different nationalities were killed in an attack on a hotel in Burkina Faso's capital by al Qaeda linked militants. Militants swore they would continue to attack former French colonies and French interests in West Africa in retaliation for stationing troops in the region.
In December, eleven people, including at least one soldier, were killed during an attack by unidentified gunmen in a village in Ivory Coast near the border with Liberia.The West African nation was attacked by unidentified armed men from Liberia on at least three occasions over the previous two years, in the past two years, including one assault last in January in which two soldiers were killed.
Ivory Coast emerged from a brief civil war in 2011 that capped a decade of political turmoil and has since seen rapid economic growth.