FRANCE has warned Ivory Coast and Senegal that Islamist militants are planning to attack the main cities of the West African countries, according to people familiar with intelligence reports provided to the governments.
Fighters are considering using car bombs, attacking public areas popular with foreigners, and targeting beaches, according to three people who asked not to be named because the information isn’t public.
The Ivory Coast government has asked religious leaders and Muslim organisations to notify police about newcomers in their communities and any suspicious behaviour, according to one official.
Some of the plans first surfaced in 2014, according to another official who has listened to wire taps between militants and spoken to informants. Investigators continued to uncover more details about possible targets as recently as December, the official said. Senegal arrested suspected militants last month.
Moving to target civilians
The threats come as al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb has killed at least 50 people since November in the capitals of Mali and Burkina Faso at hotels popular with foreigners, signaling the organisation is moving to target civilians in capitals south of its bases in northern Mali.
In the latest attack last Friday at least 23 people from 18 countries were killed in attacks by jihadist gunmen on the four-star Splendid hotel in the Burkina Faso capital Ouagadougou, and Cappuccino restaurant nearby in the early hours of Saturday.
Militants “are already extending their scope beyond their usual stronghold, and there is no reason why they would not continue in the rest of the region,” Cynthia Ohayon, an analyst with the International Crisis Group, said by phone from Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso.
Ivory Coast and Senegal need to take the threat seriously and improve security, she said. “The question is, will they be efficient enough and fast enough. It also remains to be seen whether the intelligence services of these countries have sufficient means to prevent such an attack.”
Security in the capitals and hubs of West African nations including Senegal, Ghana and Ivory Coast has been tightened since November when al-Qaeda killed more than 20 people at a Radisson hotel in Bamako, Mali.
The group claimed the raid on Friday in Ouagadougou. Investigators say three perpetrators were killed and three others are still at large. The militants have vowed to continue attacking French interests in West Africa in retaliation for the deployment of more than 3,000 troops in the region.
A spokesman for the French intelligence services declined to comment, in line with government rules.
Ivory Coast government spokesman Bruno Kone didn’t answer a phone call to his mobile phone. Senegal’s State Secretary of Communication Yakham Mbaye didn’t answer two phone calls to his mobile phone.
West Africa has seen an influx of weapons and Islamist militants since the fall of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. Since then, fighters moved into northern Mali, taking advantage of a weak government to attack army positions.
French President Francois Hollande sent troops and fighter planes in 2013 to push back the militants.
The region, one of Africa’s poorest, holds large deposits of gold and other metals and produces about 60% of the world’s cocoa. Guinea is the site of Simandou, the largest untapped deposit of iron ore, and Ghana and Ivory Coast are the world’s two biggest producers of cocoa.