France to help Ivory Coast after attack

Ivorian security forces evacuating people after heavily armed gunmen opened fire on Sunday in the beach resort of Grand-Bassam. At least 21 people were killed.
Ivorian security forces evacuating people after heavily armed gunmen opened fire on Sunday in the beach resort of Grand-Bassam. At least 21 people were killed.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Ministers head to former colony to offer logistical and intelligence support

ABIDJAN • French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault and Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve will head for the Ivory Coast today to offer logistical and intelligence support after the attack on Sunday by militants linked to Al-Qaeda which left at least 21 people dead.

Some 18,000 French citizens live in the former French colony. Sunday's incident marked the third assault on a West African city since November.

Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and al-Mourabitoun said three of its fighters died in the attack in Grand-Bassam, according to Mauritanian newspaper al-Akhbar, which receives statements from the Islamist militants.

Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara said on television that 15 civilians, three security personnel and three attackers were killed. "The situation is under control," he said. "We are continuing to reinforce security in Grand-Bassam, in Abidjan, and in the whole Ivorian territory."

Ivory Coast has been on high alert since November, when Al-Qaeda- linked insurgents stormed into a luxury hotel in Mali's capital, Bamako, and seized hostages. That assault left more than 20 people dead. The militants carried out a similar raid in neighbouring Burkina Faso in its capital, Ouagadougou, in January, leaving 30 dead, many of them foreigners.

The Ivory Coast has been on high alert since November, when Al-Qaeda-linked insurgents stormed into a luxury hotel in Mali's capital, Bamako, and seized hostages.

Sunday's attack is the first by Islamist militants in Ivory Coast, the biggest economy in French-speaking Africa and a country with one of the largest populations of French citizens in the region.

"This is one of the furthest reaches of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb that we've seen," Ms Cailin Birch, a political analyst at the Economist Intelligence Group, said by phone. "For the moment, the violence has really focused on French-speaking countries with a proximity to Mali, which allows for an easier cross-border flow of small groups of fighters."

Islamist fighters have established bases in northern Mali since a coup left a temporary power vacuum in 2012. When they threatened to overrun Bamako, French President Francois Hollande sent thousands of soldiers to push back the insurgents but did not eradicate their networks. The militants benefited from weapons looted from Libyan stockpiles after the ouster of Muammar Gaddafi the previous year.

France has 3,500 troops stationed in West Africa to help restore stability in the region. The militants have vowed to attack French interests until the government pulls soldiers out of the region.

Ivory Coast's economy has rebounded under Mr Ouattara after almost a decade of conflict and a disputed election in 2010 that left thousands dead and forced the country to default on foreign debt.

Grand-Bassam is about 30km east of Abidjan, the country's commercial capital. The seaside town is a former colonial capital and popular as a weekend getaway.

At least 35 people were taken to hospitals in Abidjan to be treated for injuries, Mr Jacques Cissoko, general director of the national emergency services, said by phone.

One Lebanese was killed and five others were injured, Lebanon's state-run National News Agency reported. One French citizen was killed, the government said.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 15, 2016, with the headline 'France to help Ivory Coast after attack'. Print Edition | Subscribe