On Sunday 13 March, al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) gunmen launched an attack in Ivory Coast, killing 18 people, including four Europeans, at a beach resort town in the West African country. Six shooters targeted the Chelsea Hotel and Hotel Etoile due Sud, which are located on a beach at the Grand Bassam – popular with westerners and which is located about 40 km (25 miles) east of the commercial capital Abidjan. Witnesses reported that the gunmen followed a pathway onto the beach where they opened fire on swimmers and sunbathers before turning their attention to t he packed seafront hotels where people were eating and drinking at lunchtime. The gunmen were later killed by security forces. Foreign citizens from France, Germany, Burkina Faso, Cameroon and Mali were amongst those killed. Ivorian authorities have launched an investigation into the attack.
According to US-based SITE intelligence monitoring group, AQIM, which has carried out other recent attacks in the region, claimed responsibility for Sunday’s shootings. In a statement, it indicated that the attack had been carried out by just three militants.
Sunday’s attack in Ivory Coast comes barely two months after Islamist militants killed dozens of people in a hotel and café frequented by foreigners in neighboring Burkina Faso’s capital city Ouagadougou. In November 2015, gunmen also attacked a hotel in the Malian capital Bamako. Both of these attacks were also claimed by AQIM and raised concern that the militant group was expanding its area of operation far beyond their traditional zones of operation in the Sahara and the arid Sahel region.
While the Ivory Coast was previously untouched by Islamist violence, despite its proximity to countries that have severely been affected, in the wake of the two deadly attacks in Mali and Burkina Faso, analysts warned of further such attacks across the region, including in Ivory Coast. In the wake of the attack in Ouagadougou, Ivory Coast was on high alert, with security visibly bolstered at potential targets, including shopping centres and high-end hotels. While security was also increased in the northern regions of the country, particularly near the borders with Mali in a bid to keep Islamist militants out, Grand Bassam is located in the south on the Atlantic Coast, indicating that the militants have not just cross the border, but may also have a greater presence in the country. It also further demonstrates the capacity of jihadists to blend into the public and strike soft targets.
This threat is spreading across West Africa and will likely result in further similar attacks carried out in other countries in the region. Regional government will now have to focus on increasing their policing, as well as intelligence gathering and will need to act both individually and collectively. This may also result in France increasing its military campaign in the region as it looks to protected its vast and entrenched interests in its former colonies.
According to a UN source, eleven people, including seven soldiers, were killed on Wednesday in clashes that erupted with fifteen unidentified gunmen in two military camps in Ivory Coast near the border with Liberia.
The UN source has disclosed that the UN deployed helicopters for reconnaissance of the clashes, which injured ten Ivory Coast soldiers, four seriously, adding that the military detained eight assailants, including three from Burkina Faso and one from Togo. Defense Minister Paul Koffi Koffi confirmed the incident, stating that the situation was under control and adding that “we have reinforced our position.” According to state radio, four of the gunmen were killed in the clashes, which began at around 5 AM.
Over the past two years, the Ivory Coast has been attacked by unidentified armed men near its border with Liberia on at least three previous occasions, including one assault in January in which two soldiers were killed.
Ivory Coast’s President Alassane Ouattara has won the weekend’s presidential election, the elections commission announced on Wednesday.
According to President of the Independent Electoral Commission (CEI) Youssouf Bakayoko, Ouattara won a total of 2,118,229 votes, or 83.66 percent of ballots, adding that Sunday’s vote had a turnout of 54.63 percent. Results have indicated that Ouattara won the most votes in all but one of the 31 regions as well as in the largest city, Abidjan, and the capital, Yamoussoukro. Furthermore, he won all but sixteen votes in his home constituency of Kong, which is located in Ivory Coast’s north, where more than 14,000 voters cast their ballots.
Of the six candidates who were seeking to unseat Ouattara, his closest challenger was Pascal Affi N’Guessan, head of ex-president Laurent Gbagbo’s Ivorian Popular Front (FPI). He won 9.29 percent of the votes in Sunday’s election. The results announced by the CEI must now be validated by the constitutional court. Late on Tuesday, before the results were announced, Ouattara stated, “I would like to congratulate all Ivorian’s for their maturity and exemplary behaviour…Ivory Coast is resolutely committed to the path of stability and the reinforcement of democracy.” Sunday’s election has been judged to be peaceful and transparent by observers, which will likely reassure the county’s investors.
The International Criminal Court (ICC) has released an arrest warrant for Ivorian ex-minister Charles Ble Goude pertaining to charges over war crime allegations. According to the ICC, he is wanted for alleged crimes against humanity which occurred during the violence that erupted following the 2010 disputed elections in the Ivory Coast. Meanwhile in Guinea, the country’s President has called on the opposition to accept the results of Saturday’s vote. While the provisional results have yet to be announced by the country’s electoral commission, security in the capital city has increased as the atmosphere has been tense.
ICC Makes 2011 Arrest Warrant Public
While the Ivory Coast’s Charles Ble Goude, 40, has denied leading pro-Laurent Gbagbo militias in the violent attacks that occurred shortly after the 2010 elections, the ICC has indicated that Mr. Ble Goude, who is currently detained in the Ivory Coast, is suspected of murder, rape, persecution and other inhuman acts that were committed between December 2010 and April 2011. During that time, some 3,000 people lost their lives in the crisis after ex-President Laurent Gbagbo refused to accept defeat. Judges in The Hague have stated that forces loyal to former President Gbagbo targeted civilians who backed his opponent, the Ivory Coasts current President Alassane Ouattara. Although the arrest warrant for Mr. Ble Goude was issued in December 2011, it has only now been made public and it describes the Ivorian ex-minister as a member of Mr. Gbagbo’s “inner circle.”
Following the post election violence, Mr. Ble Goude spent more than eighteen months in hiding. He was arrested in January 2013 in Ghana and extradited to the Ivory Coast, where he also faces war crimes charges. He has previously stated that as head of the Young Patriots group, he had only organised rallies and meetings and that he never ran a militia. Mr. Ble Goude, who was placed under United Nations sanctions in 2006 for allegedly inciting attacks against UN personnel, has indicated that he is prepared to go in front of the ICC in order to clear his name.
Ex-president Laurent Gbagbo, 67, was arrested in 2011 and is currently awaiting trial, on four charges of crimes against humanity relating to the election violence, at The Hague. The former president’s wife, Simone Gbagbo, has also been indicted by the ICC however the Ivory Coast’s ministers have voted to dismiss the ICC warrant and have instead indicated that they will try her in the country’s own courts.
Tensions Increase as Guineas Await Election Results
On Wednesday, in the midst of security being increased throughout the capital city amid fears of violence, Guinean President Alpha Conde urged party leaders to accept the results of the September 28 legislative polls. While the results have not yet been confirmed, the President has praised the vote, calling it the dawn of democracy in the West African state which has been chronically hit with instability. During Conde’s speech, which marked the 55th anniversary of Guinea’s independence from France, the President stated “I would like to say how proud I am…of your amazing mobilization to make these legislative polls a real success.” The 75-year-old added that the election “has allowed us to take another step on the path to democracy.” However while the president has urged for calm as the election results begin to trickle in, the country’s main opposition parties have already stated that the elections were rigged. On Tuesday, Guinea’s electoral commission released some partial and provisional results. Although full provisional results had been due to be released on Wednesday, officials indicated late on Tuesday that tally sheets were still being transported from polling stations.
On Wednesday, police and military reinforcements were visible on the streets of Conakry, with barricades being set up around the headquarters of the electoral commission. Despite the independence day bank holiday, an increased number of shops and market stalls remained shut as the atmosphere continued to be tense.