The UK's Daily Mail reports that at least four suspected al Qaeda terrorists with AK47s and hand grenades killed 16 people, including four Europeans, at a tourist resort in the historic town of Grand Bassam, Ivory Coast, before they were gunned down in a shootout with government troops. Among the victims was a five-year-old boy who fell to his knees and prayed for his life before being shot mercilessly.
The heavily armed, balaclava-clad shooters arrived by boat and yelled "Allah Akbar!" before opening fire on guests at the L'Etoile du Sud hotel, which was full of expats at the time. Of the 16 people murdered, 14 were civilians and two were special forces soldiers. The six attackers were later killed by soldiers.
One survivor said, "They killed a child despite him kneeling down and begging. They shot a woman in the chest. They've killed innocent people."
Another witness said that a man with a long beard spoke to two children in Arabic and spared the life of the one who was able to recite an Islamic prayer. "The Christian boy was shot and killed right in front of my eyes." It's unclear if this was the same boy begging for his life.
Al Qaeda in the Maghreb reportedly has claimed responsibility for the attack through one of its social media accounts.
The terrorists were suspected to be targeting a U.S. delegation led by Assistant Secretary of Commerce Marcus Jadotte, who was visiting Ivory Coast with a group of Americans including college recruiters from the University of Florida. They had not yet arrived at L'Etoile du Sud when the attack took place. But the American embassy in the capital Abidjan said there was no evidence that U.S. citizens were being targeted, nor were there any reports of them being harmed.
The attack was the third time in recent months that terrorists have targeted a West African tourist hotspot. Dozens were killed during a siege of a Malian hotel in November, followed by an assault on a hotel and cafe in Burkina Faso in January. Analysts have warned that Ivory Coast, which shares a border with both those countries, could be a potential target by jihadists as well.
"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 terrorism expert Lemine Ould Salem, who stated that the attackers could be from the ISIS-affiliated Boko Haram.