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.
According to military sources, Malian troops destroyed two jihadist camps and arrested fifteen suspected militants in what is the latest operation combatting radical Islamist groups near the southern border with the Ivory Coast.
A military officer has reported that “during new military operations in the area, we arrested 15 new jihadists and destroyed a new sanctuary of theirs in the region of Sikasso, on the border with Ivory Coast.” The source further disclosed that amongst the jihadists that were arrested was a radical preacher who “came from Ivory Coast in order to build a mosque in a Malian village where he would impose his law.” Military sources have also reported that troops seized arms, explosives and motorbikes in a raid on another camp near the frontier town of Fakola, which was targeted by militants on 28 June. The attack was later claimed by Islamist group Ansar Dine.
This latest raid also comes after Malian troops last week killed several jihadists in the Sikasso region, which is also located near the border with the Ivory Coast. During that raid, troops also destroyed the insurgents’ camp in a forest straddling the frontier.
While jihadist attacks are normally confined to Mali’s restive northern desert region, since the beginning of this year, militants have also targeted towns bordering Mauritania, in attacks that appear to indicate that militant groups are expanding their areas of operation.
On Sunday, gunmen, identified as Islamic extremists, launched an attack and briefly occupied a village in southern Mali, near the border with Ivory Coast, before being forced out by security forces. This is the second attack to be carried out by suspected Islamic extremists over the weekend, and has prompted Malian President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita to convene a meeting of defense officials in the capital, Bamako, in order to discuss the security situation.
Sunday’s attack in southern Mali targeted the village of Fakola, located 15 kilometres (9 miles) north of the Ivory Coast border in the southern region of Sikasso. According to Mamadou Tangara, mayor of the regional capital Sikasso, the militants burned administrative buildings as well as a building that was being used as a local base for military police. Officials have reported that none of the military police officers sustained any injuries as they had left the village prior to the attack beginning. Residents have reported that assailants in the area cut the phone network. By late afternoon, security forces stationed nearby had driven the attackers out. A senior military official blamed the attack on a group of ethnic Peuhls infiltrated by fighters believed to be link to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). The military source has suggested that the attackers could be the same group who attacked the village of Misseni in Sikasso earlier this month. The group, known as the Massina Liberation Front, is also suspected of clashing with government troops in the central Mopti region this month and has been blamed for several recent attacks.
On Saturday, at least twelve people, including three soldiers, were killed when suspected extremists attacked the village of Nara, located 30 kilometres (19 miles) south of the border with Mauritania. A statement released by the Malian government disclosed that gunfire erupted at around 5:00 AM local time. While the statement did not identify the assailants, a senior army officer has disclosed that military intelligence and initial witness accounts indicate that the attackers were Islamist fighters mainly from the Peuhl ethnic group. On Sunday, President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita held a defense council meeting. Officials have since reported that the government will increase security in the border regions with Ivory Coast and Mauritania.
On Monday, the Malian government appealed for calm a day after jihadists ransacked a town near the Ivory Coast border in what is the second attack to occur in the south in less than three weeks. A government statement released Monday disclosed that the army has been deployed to the area to hunt down the militants, who escaped after ending their brief occupation. The statement read, “the government of the republic of Mali strongly condemns these barbaric attacks aimed at sabotaging the actions for peace and stability in Mali… The government…asks the population to remain calm and cooperate with the defense and security forces in their fight against terrorism.”
While incursions in the south remain extremely rare, the group was said to have been behind an ambush that occurred less than three weeks ago in the nearby town of Misseni, when jihadists killed a policeman and hoisted their flag at a military base.