On Sunday, six gunmen from Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), the terrorist group’s North African affiliate, killed 16 people, including four Europeans and two special forces soldiers, in an attack on hotels in Grand Bassam, a beach resort town in Ivory Coast.
Witnesses said the gunmen followed a pathway onto the beach where they then opened fire on swimmers and sunbathers before turning their attention to the packed seafront hotels where people were eating and drinking at lunchtime.
“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.”
Security forces moved to evacuate the area surrounding the beach. Bullet holes riddled vehicles nearby and glass from shattered windows littered the ground.
The body of one of the attackers, dressed in dark trousers and a blood-covered striped shirt, lay beside the beachside entrance to one hotel, a bullet hole in his head.
Beside him on the sand sat a combat vest used to carry extra ammunition. Nearby, on the ground, lay unexploded grenades.
“I present my condolences to the families of the people who were murdered, and of course I am very proud of our security forces who reacted so fast,” Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara said outside one of the hotels, Etoile du Sud. “The toll could’ve been much heavier.”
A former French trading post, Grand-Bassam became the first capital of Ivory Coast (or Côte d’Ivoire) is designated a Unesco World Heritage Site that “bears witness to the complex social relations between Europeans and Africans, and to the subsequent independence movement.”