Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb has claimed responsibility for Sunday’s brutal attack on beach hotels in the Grand Bassam town of the Ivory Coast, in which at least 16 people were killed.
The BBC reports al-Qaeda’s claim of responsibility was published swiftly after the attack, in Arabic, English, French, and Spanish, using the terror group’s Twitter account and the secure messaging application Telegram. This is a similar approach to the way ISIS takes credit for its foul deeds, suggesting that al-Qaeda has both learned from its former proteges and is eager to re-establish itself as the premier Islamist terror organization.
“Swimmers and sunbathers were targeted, as well as visitors eating and drinking by the shore at lunchtime. Foreign citizens from Burkina Faso, Cameroon, France, Germany and Mali were among the victims, according to the interior ministry. Two soldiers and six attackers were also killed,” Reuters reports.
“I saw all the customers running with their crying children. I asked and they said ‘They’re there on the beach shooting,'” one hotel employee recalled. “We never thought it would happen here. Abidjan, maybe. But here? Never.” (Abidjan is the much larger economic capital of the Ivory Coast, while Grand Bassam is seen as smaller, more remote, and quieter.)
The BBC published a harrowing account from survivor Charline Burton, a Belgian tourist visiting the Ivory Coast beaches with her husband and two young daughters. Burton survived by hiding in a toilet with her one-year-old child, saying “it was a miracle the baby didn’t cry” and give away their hiding space to the balaclava-clad gunmen she could hear rampaging all around her with Kalashnikov rifles and grenades.
“We started escaping and I lost my husband. Each of us had a kid in our hand,” said Burton. “I was totally lost and didn’t know what to do. I was with my baby. I entered a bathroom and we were there stuck for two hours, maybe three.”
Her husband and three-year-old daughter, meanwhile, were ushered into a hotel bedroom with other guests and told to lie on the floor and remain quiet, until the Ivorian army arrived to secure the area.
The attack was similar to gun rampages in Burkina Faso and Mali over the past six months, also claimed by al-Qaeda, and is the first high-profile Islamist terror attack on the Ivory Coast.
Reuters describes it as a “heavy blow” for the “economic powerhouse of the French-speaking region,” which has been trying to recover from a civil war by attracting foreign investment and tourism. The beaches were described as deserted on Monday morning, devoid of either tourists or roaming street vendors, despite a visible military presence.
The attack is also taken as “further evidence that Islamist militants in Africa are expanding beyond their traditional zones of operation in the Sahara and the arid Sahel region in an increasingly ambitious campaign of violence.”
“These cowardly attacks by terrorists will not be tolerated,” declared Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara, as quoted by the BBC. “We salute the bravery and the cold blood of our defense forces and security.”
France’s Foreign and Interior Ministers, Jean-Marc Ayrault and Bernard Cazeneuve respectively, are reportedly planning a visit to the Ivory Coast to demonstrate solidarity with their former colony. Reuters reports that French counter-terrorism officials have also been dispatched to assist with the investigation.