At least 14 civilians and two soldiers were killed as gunmen on Sunday attacked Cote d’Ivoire’s beach resort of Grand Bassam, President Alassane Ouattara said.
“Six attackers came onto the beach in Bassam this afternoon … We have 14 civilians and two special forces soldiers who were unfortunately killed.”
Ouattara added that the six attackers were also killed.
The Interior Minister, Hamed Bakayoko, told BBC that the gunmen had been “neutralised”.
A witness of Sunday’s attack said, “heavily armed men wearing balaclavas” had opened fire near the L’Etoile du Sud hotel, which was full of expats.
Another eyewitness, Souleymane Kamagate, said he saw people running from the beach and fleeing in different directions.
BBC’s Maud Jullien reports that Ivory Coast has been identified as one of several countries in West Africa at risk of being targeted by Islamist militants.
Luxury hotels were targeted by terrorists in Mali in November and Burkina Faso in January.
A French foreign ministry spokesman said at least one French national was among the victims.
Some media outlets reported Al-Qaeda’s north African branch has claimed responsibility for the attack.
The assailants fired on beach-goers in the town of Grand Bassam yesterday afternoon, about 25 miles east of the country’s commercial capital Abidjan.
The resort is popular with local people and foreigners.
“For the moment, we have a total of 12 dead, including four Europeans. We don’t know yet if there are others. We are doing clean-up operations right now,” an officer from the national police said during a security forces briefing last night.
The attackers were “heavily armed and wearing balaclavas” and “fired at guests at L’Etoile du Sud, a large hotel which was full of expats in the current heatwave”, a witness said.
A military official said that gunmen ordered their victims to shout “Allahu Akbar” before shooting them and that one jihadi was killed while two others fled. Local reports claimed the gunmen shouted “Allahu Akbar” as they opened fire, though it was not immediately clear who was behind the attack.
Josiane Sekongo, 25, who lives across from one of Grand Bassam’s many beachfront hotels, said she heard gunfire and saw people running from the beach. She said security forces arrived as locals hid in their homes.
Photos posted to social media apparently taken at the scene showed bodies sprawled on the beach.
It is the third major attack on a tourism centre in a West African country since November.
A receptionist at the Etoile de Sud hotel in Grand-Bassam said the attacks happened on the beach. “We don’t know where they came from, and we don’t know where they’ve gone,” he said of the gunmen. Everyone in the hotel was safe, and police were present, he said.
Dramane Kima, who videoed some of the bodies, said: “I saw seven dead that I filmed. There were four attackers. I was swimming when it started and I ran away.”
He also took pictures of grenades and ammunition clips that he believed had been left behind by the attackers.
One witness said the gunmen shot a child, although he was kneeling down and begging for mercy. The witness said a woman was also shot.
Special forces in the former French colony were on the scene and the beach was evacuated.
A spokeswoman for the Foreign Office said officials were “urgently” trying to establish whether any British nationals had been caught up in the incident.
Attacks in recent months on luxury hotels in the capitals of neighbouring Mali and Burkina Faso have killed dozens of people, leaving west African nations scrambling to boost security in the face of a growing jihadi threat.
Analysts have voiced fears that Islamist attacks could spread to countries such as Ivory Coast and Senegal.
Grand Bassam, which has about 80,000 inhabitants, holds Unesco world heritage status for its elegant colonial-era facades.
The attack took place nearly two months after Islamist fighters killed dozens of people in a hotel and cafe frequented by foreigners in neighbouring Burkina Faso’s capital Ouagadougou, raising concern that the reach of militancy in west Africa was spreading.