On Sunday, March 13th, Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) attacked three hotels in Grand Bassam, Ivory Coast. Over twenty people were killed, including fourteen civilians, two soldiers and the six attackers. Victims included German, French, and several African citizens. This is the first Al-Qaeda incursion in the Ivory Coast, but the third attack in West Africa since November. Despite the increased surveillance in West Africa, Al-Qaeda has succeeded in several assaults, spreading fear throughout the region.
According to witnesses, the assailants arrived in a car around noon where they began their attack at the beachside. One of their first targets was a boy playing on the beach. The attackers proceeded into three beachside hotels. The beaches of Grand Bassam were soon flooded by the panicked, affluent Ivorian and foreign hotel guests, attempting to flee the assailants. Special units from security forces arrived almost an hour after the shootings began.
Similar to the attack in the Ivory Coast, Al-Qaeda has terrorized many West African countries with a particular target on tourist locations. Last November, an attack in Mali left twenty-seven people dead. In January, over twenty people were shot in Burkina Faso’s capital. Ryan Cummings, the director of an Africa-focused security management organization, believes that Al-Qaeda has launched an attack on countries with strong French relations in response to France’s operation against jihadists initiated in 2013. Although the French and American governments decried the Ivorian assault, Al-Qaeda attacks and other terrorist attacks in Chad, Nigeria and Niger have received less publicity than ISIS assaults in other parts of the world. While pundits may criticize the lack of media publicity, perhaps news agencies and governments are sending a message to terrorist groups that they will not receive the attention they desire.
The Ivory Coast and other West African nations are determined to fight against terrorist groups. According to one witness “the prime minister’s cabinet…[was] in emergency strategy meetings all day,” following the attacks. The Ivory Coast has set up stations for quick response forces. African nations have intensified security, predominantly in populated cities. The Nigerian President and Algerian minister have also called for an African coalition in a war against terrorism.
Heightened security cannot remedy all the consequences of Al-Qaeda attacks in West Africa. The Ivory Coast has been a leading African investment prospect. Security risks dwindle investor confidence. Incursions at commercial areas break down the infrastructure needed for economic development. Attacks at several hotels have left tourists fearful, jeopardizing one of the country’s major industries, tourism.
The Ivory Coast has reacted to the attacks in an additional, unusual way–through music. Ivorian musicians released a song directed at Al-Qaeda called “Meme Pas Peur,” meaning “not a bit afraid.” The musicians shot the video at the site of the shooting. “We have not fallen down,” said Lacoste, the song’s producer. The Ivory Coast’s bravery and mature reaction to its first terrorist attack sets an example for not just other West African nations, but also Western nations struggling with terrorism.