UPDATE: Per ABC News, Al Qaeda has claimed responsibility.
An attack at Grand Bassam, a popular Ivory Coast beach resort, in West Africa has left 16 — including at least four European vacationers — dead. It is believed that six armed men opened fire on beach-goers at the resort this morning, exacerbated by the fact that a heat wave had left Grand Bassam very crowded. The assault, which included shots fired at three nearby hotels, was only thwarted because of an on-the-scene military deployment, according to a report by the French-language AFP and reposted by Yahoo News.
Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara later confirmed that all six shooters had been killed by security forces via the state-owned RTI radio station, per USA Today, and that “a detailed assessment will be communicated in the coming hours, according to the Ministry of Interior and Security.”
The gunmen and their affiliation have yet to be determined by Ivory Coast authorities, although it has been noted by a number of media outlets that an unnamed terrorist group in Mali had threatened to make the Ivory Coast a target in 2015, according to the U.S. State Department.
Grand Bassam is located on the Gulf of Guinea, approximately 25 miles east of the U.S. Embassy in Abidjan, Ivory Coast. While no confirmation has been made that any U.S. citizens were specifically targeted, reports indicate that this embassy had sent a delegation to Grand Bassam at the time of the attacks. U.S. Embassy officials have noted that they are closely monitoring the situation.
Monitoring the situation in Grand Bassam. No evidence that U.S. citizens were targeted nor confirmed reports of any U.S citizens as harmed.
— U.S. Embassy Abidjan (@USEmbAbidjan) March 13, 2016
“For the moment, we have a total of 12 dead [later updated to 16]… We don’t know yet if there are others,” one Ivory Coast officer noted to security forces during a briefing, per the AFP. “We are doing clean-up operations right now.”
The assailants, meanwhile, were described as “heavily armed and wearing balaclavas,” according to witness Dramane Kima, who also told the AFP that the ran toward and opened fire on “guests of L’Etoile du Sud, a large Ivory Coast hotel which was full fo expats in the current heatwave.” Another witness, Abbas El-Roz, noted that he saw the armed men carrying Kalashnikov assault rifles and wearing a grenade belt, also per the AFP.
Kima also told that AFP that he single-handedly saw “seven dead… I was swimming when it started and I ran away.”
When pressed for a comment, an anonymous L’Etoile du Sud receptionist said that “We don’t know where they came from, and we don’t know where they’ve gone,” but that everyone physically located at the hotel was safe. Local resident Josiane Sekongo, meanwhile, told the AFP that she saw people fleeing the Ivory Coast beaches en masse and hiding in their homes as security forces abruptly swept in to respond to the attacks.
The news also follows similar Muslim extremist attacks in West African hotels in Mali (November) and Burkina Faso (January) that killed “dozens,” Fox News noted.
Grand-Bassam — which was recently the recipient of UNESCO’s “World Heritage” status due to its colonial-era facades — is located on the Ivory Coast’s Gulf of Guinea, approximately 25 miles east of the U.S. Embassy in Abidjanj, and has 80,000 residents. UNESCO says that the late 19th/early 20th century colonial town “bears witness to the complex social relations between Europeans and Africans, and to the subsequent independence movement.”
[Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images]