March 16, 2016 / 2:03 PM / 2 years ago

Al Qaeda attack will not derail Ivory Coast revival: president

GRAND BASSAM, Ivory Coast (Reuters) - President Alassane Ouattara vowed on Wednesday that an al Qaeda-claimed attack on an Ivory Coast beach resort that killed 19 people would not derail the nation’s post-war revival.

Ivory Coast's President Alassane Ouattara prepares to lay a wreath for those killed in Sunday's attack by Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, on a beach in Grand Bassam March 16, 2016. REUTERS/Luc Gnago

Militants burst onto the beach on Sunday in the town of Grand Bassam, 40 km (25 miles) from the commercial capital Abidjan, gunning down swimmers and sunbathers before storming into several hotels. [L5N16M30G]

The attack was a heavy blow for the West African state that has recovered from more than a decade of political turmoil and a 2011 civil war to become one of the world’s best performing economies with annual growth averaging around 9 percent.

Ouattara won re-election by a landslide in October, pledging to attract foreign investment to the largest economy in French-speaking West Africa, also the world’s top cocoa producer.

“Our march towards (economic) emergence is irreversible. The progress we’ve made in the past four years must be further reinforced,” he said before a cabinet meeting in Grand Bassam.

The government said following the meeting that the death toll from the attack had increased by one to 19.

Eleven Ivorians, including three special forces soldiers, died. Four French citizens were killed and other foreign victims included citizens of Germany, Lebanon, Macedonia and Nigeria.

The government had earlier stated there were victims from Burkina Faso, Cameroon, and Mali; however, that was later found to be untrue after the identities of the dead were verified.

Another 24 injured people were still in hospital on Wednesday, a government spokesman said.

Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), the group’s North African branch, claimed the attack and said it was revenge for a French offensive against Islamist militants in the Sahel region.

AQIM published photos on its social media sites of three men it said were the suicide attackers, according to the SITE Intelligence Group that monitors militant activity online. AQIM said they were from al Mourabitoun, an allied group led by veteran militant leader Mokhtar Belmokhtar.

Grand Bassam is a popular weekend retreat only a short drive from Abidjan, a cosmopolitan regional economic hub with a population of around five million. The attack came as the government seeks to revitalize a once lucrative tourism industry that was shattered by the crisis years.

After visiting the beach in Grand Bassam and laying a wreath, Ouattara sought to reassure the local tourism.

“We must not be intimidated, discouraged by the terrorists,” he said. “I am sure that this weekend the hotel business will return to normal.”

Reporting by Loucoumane Coulibaly; Writing by Joe Bavier; Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg and Tom Heneghan

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