GRAND-BASSAM, IVORY COAST - Al-Qaida's North African affiliate has claimed an attack by six heavily-armed assailants on an Ivory Coast resort that killed 14 civilians and two soldiers on Sunday. Twenty-two people were wounded.
SITE Intelligence, a for-profit group which monitors jihadist websites said al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb claimed the attack in a post to its Telegram channels, calling three of the attackers "heroes'' for the assault on three hotels in the beach resort of Grand-Bassam.
Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara visited the shooting site later Sunday afternoon.
He says "I would like to say that these coward terrorist attacks will not be tolerated in Ivory Coast." He also says the situation is now under control and calm has been restored.
Ouattara said the six terrorists were killed. The death toll is 14 civilians, as well as two members of the security forces, while 22 people were wounded.
Witness Jean-Baptiste Beugré works at a hotel next to where the shooting took place. He says he saw one of the gunmen arrive.
They heard gunshots, he says, and first thought it was firecrackers. When they got closer to see what was happening, they saw a man wearing fatigues, a flak jacket and carrying an AK47. He shouted "down!" and then started to shoot at people. Children, women, everybody.
Witnesses said the gunman looked very young and was heavily armed.
Survivor Marcel Gueï describes how one of the terrorists asked one man if he was praying (going to the mosque). He said yes and survived. Then the terrorist asked the man next to him. He said he didn't pray, and the gunman shot him dead.
Witnesses said the assailants wore hooded face masks and arrived on foot on the beach at one of the hotels, the Southern Star, which was full of foreign expatriates during a heatwave in the city of about 80,000 people.
As the shooting rampage was unfolding, a hotel receptionist said, “We do not know where they came from, and we do not know where they have gone.” Everyone in the hotel was safe, he said, and police were on the scene.
The United States condemned the "heinous attack," and praised "Ivoirian and French" forces for preventing more people from dying.
National Security Council spokesman Ned Price said the U.S. is prepared to assist Ivory Coast in its investigation. He also reiterated U.S. commitment to working with others in West Africa to fight terrorists who want to undermine efforts to "build tolerant and inclusive societies."
Grand-Bassam is a former French colonial capital, about 40 kilometers east of the commercial hub of Abidjan, and is designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site because of the elegant colonial-era facades of buildings in the city.
It is the third such deadly attack in the past few months in West Africa. In November, gunman stormed a hotel in Bamako, in neighboring Mali, and in January, armed men stormed a hotel and a restaurant in Burkina Faso. The same al-Qaida group claimed responsibility for those attacks as well.
Ivorian authorities had increased security around hotels and all around Abidjan, as it was feared that Ivory Coast could be the next target.