At least 16 people, including foreign nationals, were killed and a further 22 injured in an attack on a beach resort in Grand Bassam, about 40km east of Côte d’Ivoire’s capital, Abidjan, on 13 March 2016. At least six gunmen, who targeted three hotels in the resort, were killed in a subsequent shootout with security forces.
The attack has been claimed by Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) which has conducted several attacks across West and North Africa in recent years. This is the third such attack by AQIM in the past five months since the 21 November 2015 attack on a hotel in Mali’s capital Bamako killed at least 20 people. Earlier this year on 15 January, AQIM killed 28 people in an attack on a popular hotel in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso.
AQIM has flourished in recent years amid regional instability and reduced state capacity arising from civil wars and unrest. Its persistent capability to orchestrate such attacks on high-profile targets, despite authorities’ efforts to push back, is a cause of concern for regional security and intelligence bodies. France, which keeps 3 000 troops in the region to combat Islamist extremism, will also be worried.
AQIM’s increased assertiveness is driven by several factors. Firstly, it seems to have consolidated after a period of infighting and power struggles, during which its regional reach and influence appeared diminished. It is motivated by the broader ideology of global jihad shared with the larger Al Qaeda network and the attacks are an implicit show of strength to France’s military intervention and a warning to regional governments that engage with European powers. Finally, the recent attacks are also a message to the Islamic State (also known as ISIL or ISIS) which has rapidly emerged as AQIM’s main rival in the region. The two organisations (and their international affiliate bodies) are in direct conflict with each other and the Continent looks increasingly set to become a battlefield for what could be a devastating proxy war.
Given this increased assertiveness, and weakening regional stability, further attacks on high-profile targets, such as hotels frequented by foreign nationals, are likely. At the same time, regional and French security forces will be under pressure to respond to the recent attack, which could see conflict escalate and catalyse a further cycle of reciprocal attacks.