ON the golden sands of Grand-Bassam beach, usually packed with expats escaping the city, lies the body of a young man, his face ripped apart by a bullet.
Men in white inspect the body as onlookers take pictures on their mobile phones. “He’s a kid,” says one of them.
The man is one of 16 people gunned down by jihadists in the sleepy seaside resort, just 40 kilometres (25 miles) from the hustle and bustle of Ivory Coast’s economic hub Abidjan.
The US-based SITE Intelligence Group said Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), the terror group’s North African affiliate, had claimed responsibility for the attack.
At a beach bar several metres away, one of many little huts dotted along the beach, doctors are laying out the lifeless body of a woman still in her swimsuit. Two more bodies lie not far away.
“They have come to ruin our country,” shouts one witness.
Soldiers and armed police patrol the area and an army boat trawls the coastline looking for more bodies.
Sunday’s attack, claimed by an Al-Qaeda affiliate, bears grim similarities to an Islamist attack on a Tunisian beach resort last June, which left 38 foreign holidaymakers dead.
“At the beginning we thought this was just kids throwing firecrackers—then we realised it was jihadists,” says beach vendor Gisele Kouao.
Carine Boa, a Belgian-Ivorian national who teaches at an international high school in Abidjan, was at one of the beach bars with her two sons.
‘Were really scared’
“Someone told us that it was just an argument between two of the bar bosses—then it became more serious,” she says.
“We hid in a little shack. There were about 20 of us.
“We were really scared. We thought of the people at the Bataclan,” she says, referring to the concert venue attacked by gunmen during the November’s terror attacks in the French capital when 130 people were killed.
“I thought this was it for us. You always tell yourselves that these things can’t happen,” she says quietly.
At the Etoile du Sud (Southern Star) hotel, one of three targeted by the attackers armed with guns and grenades, towels lie abandoned around the swimming pool.
A bullet is lodged in the glass front of the bar’s refrigerator. A large pool of blood stains the floor.
A foreign woman was killed there after trying to hide behind the bar, says an employee. A policeman adds that she was shot at close range.
“I saw one of the attackers from far away,” says Abbas El-Roz, a Lebanese salesman, who was in the pool when the attackers struck.
“He had a Kalashnikov and a grenade belt. He was looking for people.”
Beyond the beach, a crowd of onlookers have gathered by the bridge that separates the new town from the French quarter—the old town whose beautiful colonial-era facades earned Grand-Bassam its UNESCO World Heritage status.
State of shock
Under the guard of security forces, Marie-Claire Yapi is in tears. In the panic, she was separated from her nine-month old baby and her sister.
“Someone said to me: ‘Run, this is serious—they are killing everyone,” she says.
“He had a Kalashnikov. Even after he was hit, he wanted to kill.”
Beside her, in a state of shock with a t-shirt soaked in blood, Koumena Kakou Bertin describes how the attackers shouted “Allahu Akbar”—Arabic for “God is great”—as they sprayed the beach with bullets.
Dozens of survivors in swimming costumes and clutching beach bags are escorted past by the military. Their faces are haggard and some of them are shaking.
“We were scared,” says vendor Charlotte Yao. “We cried a lot.”