Originally published on CNBC.
Almost two dozen people were killed Sunday in the Ivory Coast by militants linked to al-Qaeda in what is seen by some experts as an attempt to scare off western investment in the region.
Gunmen opened fire at the popular beach resort town of Grand Bassam, targeting beachgoers from three separate hotels. It is the third such attack in the region in the past year. There have been similar attacks in both Mali and Burkina Faso.
“The message is to not only disrupt the lives of local people but also remind tourists that their lives are also disrupted,” said Alan Mendoza, founder and executive director of the Henry Jackson Society, a UK think tank, on the phone to CNBC.
Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), a jihadist group with ties to al-Qaeda, claimed responsibility for the attack which killed 14 tourists and two security officials. The victims were Ivorian, Burkinabe, Malian, Cameroonian, French and German, according to The New York Times.
During the onslaught, up to six gunmen armed with AK47s and hand grenades stormed the beach shouting, “Allah Akbar,” before launching their attack, shooting at tourists and locals alike, according to several media reports.
Although AQIM’s base is believed to be in northern Mali, the group have led an increasing number of deadly attacks on destinations popular with expats in Africa, reports The New York Times.
“What’s concerning about this attack is that this particular franchise (of al-Qaeda) is appearing to be spreading forth and diversing its target,” Mendoza told CNBC.
Ivory Coast, which gained its independence from France in the 1960s, is the largest economy in West Africa. It recently overtook Nigeria to lead Nielsen’s Africa Prospect Indicators (APi) Report, which showcases the huge investment opportunities across the continent as a whole.
The Ivory Coast is an “investment magnet for countries well beyond France,” said Mendoza, and has enjoyed relative peace since the end of its civil war in 2011.
In 2014, France announced that it would use the Ivory Coast as its base for fighting Islamist terrorism in the Sahel region. A 3,000-strong taskforce of French soldiers has been based there ever since, reports the UK’s Independent newspaper.
“This is a message for France but also others seeking to invest in such countries to stay out,” Mendoza told CNBC. “The point is to say to potential investors, ‘think again.’ This is a targeted message to those investing: we intend to disrupt it as much as possible and cause chaos and engulf it in instability.”
The U.S. condemned the weekend’s attack in a statement released by Department of State’s spokesman John Kirby, who also tweeted, “U.S. strongly condemns terrorist attack in Côte d’Ivoire. Working to acct for welfare of U.S. citizens. Ready to assist in investigation.”
The attack on Grand Bassam bears resemblance to the one in Tunisia in June 2015 that killed 38 people, including 30 British tourists. The same group claimed responsibility for that attack.
Then in November, more than 20 people were killed during a siege on a Malian hotel, followed by an assault on a hotel and cafe in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso’s capital, in January that claimed almost 30 lives.
Mendoza told CNBC that the regional countries have to work together to fight the jihadist threat, as does the international community which “has vested interested in helping these countries fight terrorism.”
“It’s a form of terrorism which affects all of us as well,” said Mendoza.