By Jacob Lindelöw Berntson
Sunday saw yet another terrorist attack in West Africa, following the deadly attacks in Mali in November and the Burkina Faso attacks in January. This time, it was the beach resort in Grand Bassam in Côte d’Ivoire, where gunmen charged the resort, killing at least 22 people according to the latest updates from Jeune Afrique. The beach resort is a well-known hangout for affluent Ivorians and tourists, and the victims are said to be of Beninese, Burkinabe, Cameroonian, French, German and Ivorian nationality. According to reports, many people tried escaping by swimming out to sea away from the attackers, and some of these are said to have drowned as they were being swept away by strong currents. But what caused these attacks, and why did they occur in Côte d’Ivoire? This is our quick assessment of what we know so far.
Who did it?
Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) have claimed the attacks. The first testimonies said that at least 10 people armed with Kalashnikovs stormed the beach, whereas AQIM’s own statements regarding the attacks claimed that three of their fighters had attacked Grand Bassam.
Why did they do it?
We have previously talked about AQIM on this blog. In that post, we mentioned that the group have been expanding their presence, moving from their original base in Algeria and Mali into the more southern parts of the Sahel. The attacks in Bamako and Ouagadougou constituted a change in their tactics, as they targeted hotels and restaurants known to be frequented by foreign nationals, whereas they previously mainly have attacked military checkpoints in Mali. According to an analyst at the International Crisis Group, this change in tactics reflects a desire to demonstrate that the group can control and influence larger territories.
One similarity between the attacks in Mali and Burkina Faso and Sunday’s attack in Grand Bassam is the origins of the attackers. Whereas AQIM traditionally has been a group consisting of Arabs from North Africa, these attacks were all committed by perpetrators of several different countries in the Sahel region. Reports even said that some attackers had spoken English with a Nigerian accent, suggesting that the group is expanding. Similarly, the early testimonies stated that the perpetrators of the Grand Bassam attack were all sub-Saharan Africans, thus further enforcing the trend seen in previous attacks. As we mentioned in our post on terror in the Sahel region, the new AQIM strategy could be seen as a response to ISIS expansion, and the latter’s alliance with Boko Haram, and ultimately meant to spread fear among the population in West Africa.
Why Côte d’Ivoire?
Following the attacks in Bamako and Ouagadogou, France warned both Senegal and Côte d’Ivoire that attacks on their capitals were likely, and Senegal was put on high alert after the Ouagadougou killings. Although it is difficult to speculate at this time, there are a few similarities between many of the countries that AQIM have exploited and Côte d’Ivoire. In Mali, AQIM were able to take advantage of the unstable situation following the Tuareg rebellions of 2012, and have been able to justify attacks by the fact that many corrupt Sahelian governments are supported by Western nations in order to fight terror. Côte d’Ivoire has experienced two civil wars in the 2000s, and the country’s former president Laurent Gbagbo is currently on trial in the International Criminal Court. Moreover, the country has served as the base for France’s counter-terrorist operations in the Sahel, meaning that the attacks could be seen as a way of punishing Côte d’Ivoire for their cooperation with Western governments.
What will the consequences be?
Of course, we know too little at the moment to be able to make a fair assessment of the consequences of the attacks. Foreign leaders have all condemned the attacks, and it is likely that efforts to strengthen counter-terrorism efforts in country and the region will be both discussed and implemented. However, as we talked about in our Sahel post, this is a problem that will not be solved by more troops and more intelligence, but one that requires a more holistic approach. Given the recent trend of terror in the region, it is unfortunately likely that we will see more attacks like this one in the future.
Photo: Av Nova3web (Flickr ) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons