Assailants opened fire on beachgoers Sunday in Grand-Bassam, a historic resort town in Ivory Coast sending tourists fleeing through hotels. Photos posted to social media apparently taken at the scene showed bodies sprawled on the beach.
Officials did not say immediately how many were killed. Security forces responded as the area evacuated and residents hid in their homes.
The bursts of gunfire were heard in the southeastern Ivory Coast beach town about 40 kilometers (25 miles) east of Abidjan, Ivory Coast’s commercial center, said a witness, the third major attack on a tourism center in a West African country since November.
The gunfire rang out from the beach said 25-year-old Josiane Sekongo, who lives across from one of the town’s many beachfront hotels. People ran from the beach amid the gunfire, she said.
Security forces responded as residents hid in their homes, she said. Grand-Bassam is a UNESCO world heritage site and a popular weekend destination for Ivorians and foreigners.
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 gendarmerie were present, he said. He would not give his name.
Sunday’s attack in Ivory Coast marks the third time in recent months that a West African tourist center has come under assault by gunmen. Dozens were killed in the earlier attacks, starting with a siege at a Malian hotel in November and then an assault on a hotel and cafe in Burkina Faso in January.
Analysts have warned for months that Ivory Coast, which shares a border with both of those affected countries, could be a potential target by jihadists as well.
An American embassy delegation was in Grand-Bassam on Sunday but the U.S. Embassy in Abidjan said it is monitoring the situation in Grand-Bassam and it has no evidence that U.S. citizens were targeted nor confirmed reports of any U.S citizens harmed.
It was unclear how many assailants were involved. Casualty information was not immediately available.
Grand-Bassam is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
"I have always said that Abidjan (Ivory Coast) and Dakar (Senegal) are the next targets for jihadist groups because these two countries represent windows of France in Africa," said Lemine Ould M. Salem, an expert on al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb and author of a book "The Bin Laden of the Sahara." He said the attackers could be from Moktar Belmoktar’s al-Mourabitoun, but that Boko Haram should not be ruled out. The Nigeria-based Boko Haram pledged to the Islamic State last year.
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