Friday 20 April 2018

Six gunmen shoot 16 dead in Ivory Coast hotel rampage

A soldier comforts an injured boy in Bassam, Ivory Coast
A soldier comforts an injured boy in Bassam, Ivory Coast

Robbie Corey

Six armed men attacked beachgoers outside three hotels in Grand-Bassam, killing at least 16 people, including four Europeans.

The attacks sent tourists fleeing through the historic Ivory Coast resort town. Bloodied bodies were sprawled on the beach when emergency services arrived.

Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara visited the scene and said: "We have 14 civilians and two special forces soldiers who were unfortunately killed."

Gunmen all dressed in black opened fire around lunchtime while people were eating and drinking at the beachside bars and restaurants or swimming in the ocean.

"They started shooting and everyone just started running. There were women and children running and hiding," said another witness, Marie Bassole. "It started on the beach. Whoever they saw, they shot at."

Ivory Coast's government said security forces had "neutralised" the six attackers.

Al Qa'ida in the Islamic Maghreb, which has carried out other recent attacks in the region, claimed responsibility for yesterday's shootings.

The bursts of gunfire sent people running from the beach at Grand-Bassam - a UNESCO World Heritage site and popular destination for Ivorians and foreigners - about 40km east of Abidjan, Ivory Coast's commercial centre. It was the third major attack on a tourism centre in a West African country since November.

"We don't know where they came from, and we don't know where they've gone," said a receptionist at the Etoile de Sud hotel in Grand-Bassam. Everyone in the hotel was safe, and gendarmerie were on guard, he said.

Beachgoers could be seen lining up with their hands above their heads as they filed out of the area. Residents who heard the gunfire hid in their homes, said Josiane Sekongo (25), who lives across from one of the many beachfront hotels.

An American embassy delegation had been present in Grand-Bassam yesterday, but the US Embassy in Abidjan said it had no evidence US citizens were targeted.

Dozens of people were killed in the earlier attacks on West African tourist sites, starting with a siege at a Malian hotel in November and then an assault on a hotel and cafe in Burkina Faso in January.

Analysts have warned for months that Ivory Coast, which shares a border with both of those affected countries, could be hit by jihadists as well.

French President Francois Hollande pledged support, denouncing the shootings as a "cowardly attack".

Irish Independent

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