Al Qaeda gunmen attacked a beach resort on Ivory Coast in West Africa on Sunday evening killing 16 people.
Armed with grenades and assault riffles, the attackers stormed three hotels in the resort of Grand-Bassam, popular with expats, around 40 kilometres (25 miles) east of the commercial hub Abidjan.
Fourteen civilians and two special forces troops were killed in the shooting spree, along with six assailants, according to Ivory Coast’s President Alassane Ouattara.
Witnesses described panic as the gunmen sprayed bullets leaving behind bodies strewn across the beach.
“I saw one of the attackers from far away,” says Abbas El-Roz, a Lebanese salesman, who was in the pool of a hotel when the attackers struck. “He had a Kalashnikov and a grenade belt. He was looking for people.”
The assailants, who were “heavily armed and wearing balaclavas, fired at guests at the L’Etoile du Sud, a large hotel which was full of expats in the current heatwave,” a witness told AFP.
“The toll is heavy,” he said as he arrived in Grand-Bassam, describing the killings as a “terrorist” attack.
One French and one German national were among the dead, according to Interior Minister Hamed Bakayoko.
The US and France offered to help the Ivorian government find the perpetrators. French President Francois Hollande condemned the incident as a “cowardly attack”.
The US-based SITE Intelligence Group said Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), the terror group’s North African affiliate, had claimed responsibility for the attack. AQIM said in a statement three of its fighters had been killed.
West African nations have scrambled to boost security in the wake of jihadist attacks on tourist hotspots in the capitals of Mali and Burkina Faso, which were also claimed by the same group. The attack brings to the fore the growing fear of a mounting jihadist threat in west Africa.
Sunday’s attack also bore grim similarities to the Islamist gun and grenade assault on a Tunisian beach resort last June, which left 38 foreign tourist dead.
(With inputs from agencies)