Al-Qaeda kills 16 in attack on Ivory Coast beach resort

by Onize Ohikere
Posted 3/14/16, 11:15 am

Gunmen from North Africa’s al-Qaeda branch killed 16 people at a beach resort Sunday in the terror group’s first attack in Ivory Coast. Analysts warn the attack indicates the rising global rivalry between al-Qaeda and the Islamic State.

Local authorities said six shooters targeted the beach and surrounding hotels in Grand-Bassam, a popular resort destination for tourists and Ivorians. The gunmen killed 14 civilians and two Ivorian special forces. Interior Minister Hamed Bakayoko said the victims came from Burkina Faso, Cameroon, France, and Germany.

One witness, Marcel Guy, said he saw a shooter approach two young boys on the beach. He spared one of the boys, who started praying, while he killed the other.

“The Christian boy was shot and killed right in front of my eyes,” Guy said. 

Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) took responsibility for the attack, according to SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors jihadist websites. AQIM described the three attackers as “heroes.”

The extremist group has killed dozens in recent attacks on tourist sites in West Africa. In November, the group stormed a hotel in Mali, and in January, it attacked a hotel and café in Burkina Faso. Analysts warned Ivory Coast could be a target, since it shares borders with both Mali and Burkina Faso. Local security forces responded by increasing their presence at potential targets like shopping malls and high-end hotels before Sunday’s attack. In 2014, France made Ivory Coast its regional base for countering terrorism in the Sahel, dispatching 3,000 French soldiers to the country and increasing chances of a retaliatory attack by extremist groups.

“There was anticipation,” Bakayoko said. “You know that our country has been targeted for a few years. We did whatever we could.”

Martin Ewi, a terrorism expert with the Institute for Security Studies in Pretoria, South Africa, said the attack highlights the building rivalry between al-Qaeda and the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL).

“Whenever the Islamic State carries out an attack, especially a high-profile one, al-Qaeda wants to respond,” Ewi said, noting the Mali attack was a response to the Islamic State’s November attack in Paris. “Al-Qaeda feels a responsibility to respond to make sure it maintains its status as the mother of all terrorist groups.”

Ayesha Kajee, a political analyst that focuses on African governance and development, agreed with Ewi in an analysis of the attack on Aljazeera’s website. If al-Qaeda is indeed trying to reassert its influence, Kajee explained, West African countries should anticipate more attacks.

“The Grand Bassam attack is unlikely to be the last such operation in the region, especially if ISIL affiliates in areas such as Nigeria decide to take on the challenge from AQIM,” Kajee predicted.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Onize Ohikere

Onize is WORLD's Africa reporter. She is a World Journalism Institute graduate and earned a journalism degree from Minnesota State University-Moorhead. Onize resides in Abuja, Nigeria. Follow her on Twitter @onize_ohiks.

Read more from this writer