At least 16 people have been killed after "heavily armed men wearing balaclavas" opened fire on a beach resort in southeastern Ivory Coast. Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) has claimed responsibility for the terror attack on beach-goers in Grand Bassam, about 40km (25 miles) from the country's economic capital, Abidjan.
President Alassane Ouattara said 14 civilians and two soldiers had died. He added that six attackers had been killed after launching attacks on three hotels in the seaside town.
Gunmen seized L'Etoile du Sud (the Southern Star) hotel, where a number of expats were. One French citizen is reported to have died, while nationalities of the other victims are yet to be disclosed.
A US delegation which was scheduled to arrive at the Etoile du Sud hotel was the target of the attack, according to a Fox News report. The group had not reached the hotel at the time of the shooting. A diplomatic source in the region told the news organisation that there were no suggestions that US citizens had either been killed or injured in the attack.
French President Francois Hollande condemned the "cowardly attack" and pledged to bring the perpetrators to justice. "France will bring its logistical support and intelligence to Ivory Coast to find the attackers," Hollande said in a statement seen by Reuters. "[France] will pursue and intensify its cooperation with its partners in the fight against terrorism."
AQIM said three "heroes" had launched the deadly hotel assault. "By the grace of Allah and His granting of success, three heroes from the knights of Qaedat al-Jihad in the Islamic Maghreb were able to storm the tourist resort 'Grand Bassam,' situated east of the city of Abidjan, in Ivory Coast," SITE Intelligence Group quoted AQIM as saying.
Local trader Koba Maiga was at the mosque when he heard bullets being discharged. "We had the war here a few years ago, so we know automatic weapons when we hear them. Initially no one in town thought much of it though. On Sundays, there are sometimes clashes between the security forces and youths from Abidjan who come down to the coast and cause trouble on the beach," he said.
"It was carnage. They shouted 'Allahu Akbar' [God is great]. They were getting people to shout those words and they killed anyone who didn't. There were at least four of them. Three walked side-by-side along the beach and there was a fourth man who finished off any survivors," Maiga added.
"A lot of people ran out into the sea to escape. So apart from the people who died from gunshots there may be people who have drowned and have been swept out to sea. They were sub-Saharan Africans. Even though they wore balaclavas everyone saw they had brown hands. Now it is calm, the Ivorian army is here."