Grand-Bassam (Ivory Coast), Mar 15: Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara has vowed that the country would not be "intimidated by terrorists", as the death toll in the country's first jihadist attack climbed to 18.
Armed with grenades and assault rifles, gunmen on Sunday stormed three hotels and sprayed the beach with bullets in the resort of Grand-Bassam, a sleepy town popular with expats just a short 40 kilometre drive from the commercial capital Abidjan.
The attack claimed by Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) left 15 civilians dead, including a German woman, as well as killing three special forces troops, the government said. A total of 33 people were injured, 26 of whom are still in hospital.
France said four of its nationals were among the dead. AQIM's real target was France, analysts said, punished both as Ivory Coast's former colonial master and for hunting down jihadists in Mali and elsewhere.
"The Ivory Coast will not allow itself to be intimidated by terrorists", Ouattara yesterday said in a statement broadcast on radio and television. "Ivory Coast is standing up, standing up to fight the cowards and protect its people."
He vowed to work with countries in the sub-region, on the continent and with our "other international partners to reinforce our cooperation to fight these terrorists".
Interior Minister Hamed Bakayoko said "three terrorists were killed" in the assault. Asked whether more gunmen were involved -- some witnesses had reported several attackers -- the minister said "we're still looking. We don't suspect more but we're making sure we carry out the widest possible sweep."
Along with a three-day national mourning period starting Monday, he said the West African nation would boost security at "strategic sites and in public places... (such as) schools, embassies, international institutions... and the borders."
In the latest such jihadist assault in West Africa, witnesses described the panic as gunfire rang out across the sand and an assailant shouted "Allahu Akbar" -- Arabic for "God is greatest".
Condemnation came from around the world with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon pledging to help government "efforts to bring the perpetrators of these crimes to justice."
French President Francois Hollande's office said his country will support Ivory Coast "to fight terrorism and considers that cooperation between all the states threatened by terrorist groups, particularly in West Africa, must intensify more than ever".