GRAND-BASSAM – Fourteen civilians and two soldiers were killed in the Ivory Coast beach resort of Grand-Bassam on Sunday when gunmen stormed the popular weekend retreat, President Alassane Ouattara said.
“Six attackers came onto the beach in Bassam this afternoon … We have 14 civilians and two special forces soldiers who were unfortunately killed,” Ouattara said during a visit to the site, about 40km east of Abidjan, the commercial capital of Ivory Coast..
The six attackers were also killed, he said.
about 40km east of the Abidjan, the commercial capital of Ivory Coast.
The assailants, who were “heavily armed and wearing balaclavas, fired at guests at the L’Etoile du Sud (Southern Star), a large hotel, which was full of expats in the current heatwave,” one witness said.
“The shots took us by surprise and now we are staying holed up,” the witness said.
A crowd of several hundred people gathered at the entrance to Grand-Bassam’s French quarter at the edge of the old town, where a dozen ambulances were on standby.
An AFP journalist saw about a dozen people, including an injured Western woman, being evacuated in a military truck.
Military vehicles carrying heavy machine guns were also heading to the scene, along with armed traditional hunters known as Dozo.
Analysts have voiced fears that Islamist attacks could spread to countries such as Ivory Coast and Senegal, and the region’s US-led Flintlock military exercises that wrapped up recently focused on the need to counter jihadism.
In Burkina Faso and Mali, al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) claimed responsibility for deadly attacks on hotels popular with foreigners in November 2015 and in January this year.
Home to some 80,000 people, Grand-Bassam holds Unesco World Heritage status thanks to its elegant colonial-era facades. The town has several hotels frequented by expats.
Unesco describes Grand-Bassam as a late 19th and early 20th century colonial town that “bears witness to the complex social relations between Europeans and Africans, and to the subsequent independence movement”.
“As a vibrant centre of the territory of French trading posts in the Gulf of Guinea, which preceded modern Cote d’Ivoire, it attracted populations from all parts of Africa, Europe and the Mediterranean Levant,” the UN cultural agency says on its website.