6 armed men shoot beachgoers at 3 Ivory Coast hotels

Posted at 3:29 PM, Mar 13, 2016
and last updated 2016-03-13 15:29:31-04

ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast (AP) — At least six armed men attacked beachgoers outside three hotels Sunday in Grand-Bassam, sending tourists fleeing through the historic Ivory Coast resort town. Bloody bodies were sprawled on the beach in photos apparently taken at the scene and posted on social media.

Ivory Coast’s government said security forces have “neutralized” the six attackers on three hotels, and said that security sweeps are being carried out.

Officials did not say immediately how many were killed or injured.

“A detailed toll will be communicated in the coming hours,” State Minister Hamed Bakayoko said in the statement. “We urge the public to remain calm.”

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 40 kilometers (25 miles) east of Abidjan, Ivory Coast’s commercial center. It was the third major attack on a tourism center 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 present, he said. He would not give his name.

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 was in Grand-Bassam on Sunday, but the U.S. Embassy in Abidjan said it is monitoring the situation and has no evidence U.S. citizens were targeted, nor confirmed reports that any were harmed.

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. The West African attacks indicate that extremist attacks are spreading from North Africa, where a beach attack in June killed 38 people in Tunisia.

“I have always said that Abidjan (Ivory Coast) and Dakar (Senegal) are the next targets for jihadist groups because these two countries represent windows of France in Africa,” said Lemine Ould M. Salem, an expert on al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb and author of a book “The Bin Laden of the Sahara.”

He said the attackers could be from Moktar Belmoktar’s al-Mourabitoun, but that Boko Haram should not be ruled out. The Nigeria-based Boko Haram pledged to the Islamic State last year.