Eleven people sentenced for extremist attack in Ivory Coast


ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast – Eleven people were sentenced to life in prison in Ivory Coast on Wednesday after being convicted of carrying out an Islamic extremist attack that killed 19 people and injured dozens more on a tourist beach nearly seven years ago.

The killings in the resort of Grand-Bassam were carried out by al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and were the nation’s first extremist attack of its kind and one of the bloodiest in the region.

The long-awaited verdict was read out by Judge Charles Bini in a packed, gloomy courtroom in the capital Abidjan where 18 defendants have been on trial since November. Only four of the accused were physically present, each of whom was sentenced to life imprisonment. Seven of the accused were found not guilty, Bini said. The families of the victims were awarded varying compensation of up to $81,000.

Grand-Bassam is connected by highway to Abidjan, Ivory Coast’s largest city, and is a popular weekend destination. When gunfire erupted on the beach that Sunday afternoon in March 2016, many vacationers initially thought they heard fireworks. But as the armed jihadists approached, terrified tourists and workers tried to seek refuge in nearby hotels. Some beachgoers who were in the sea at the time of the attack swam out over the waves to safety.

The victims that day included 11 Ivorians, four French, one German, one Lebanese, one Macedonian and one Nigerian.

Survivors of the attack were pleased with the verdict, but said they would not get closure until everyone was caught.

“It’s good, but unfortunately not everything is perfect because the brain was not in place. It will be over for the victims when he is caught, says Patrick Colin, manager of a hotel in Grand-Bassam.

The whereabouts of Kounta Dallah, a Malian national and the alleged mastermind of the attack, are unknown. An international arrest warrant has been issued for his arrest, the court said.

Since the Grand-Bassam killings, jihadist attacks in West Africa have increased. The Sahel region of neighboring Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso has been overrun by violence, which is now spreading to coastal states, including Ivory Coast. Between July and December, there were three jihadist attacks in the country, compared to none in the same period the previous year, according to the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project.

The fact that it took so long to get a verdict in Ivory Coast shows the complexity of the process, but also sends a message to those involved in extremist attacks that at some point they will pay the price, conflict analysts say.

“Credit (to) the Ivorian authorities, the security and intelligence agencies for putting together all the information and evidence to bring those responsible to justice, it definitely took a lot of work behind the scenes to get here,” said Rida Lyammouri, senior fellow at Policy Center for the New South, a Morocco-based organization.

Despite the court decision, relatives of survivors say their lives have been forever changed.

“I was lucky my son (survived)” said Odile Kouamenan. “Even though he’s traumatized, he’s still alive.”

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