14 civilians and two security forces personnel killed in Ivory Coast attack
At least 14 civilians and two special forces operatives have been killed by six armed men in a historic Ivory Coast resort town.
Beach-goers were attacked by gunmen outside three hotels in Grand-Bassam, with b loody bodies left sprawled on the beach.
Ivory Coast's president Alassane Ouattara said that the six attackers had also been killed.
Mr Ouattara has travelled to the town, pledging to visit the hotels involved to express condolences and salute the security forces for their quick response.
Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb has claimed responsibility for the attack, according to SITE Intelligence Group which monitors jihadist websites.
The Islamic extremist group made the declaration in a post to its Telegram channels, calling three of the attackers "heroes" for the assault.
Bursts of gunfire sent people running from the beach at Grand-Bassam, a Unesco World Heritage Site and popular destination for Ivorians and foreigners about 25 miles east of Abidjan, Ivory Coast's commercial centre.
It is the third major attack on a tourism hotspot in West Africa since November.
Witness Marcel Guy said that he saw at least four gunmen with Kalashnikov rifles run onto the beach. One of the gunmen had a long beard, he said.
The gunmen approached two children on the beach, and Mr Guy said he heard the man speak Arabic. One of the children then knelt and started praying.
"The Christian boy was shot and killed right in front of my eyes," he said.
A reporter later saw four bodies sprawled out on the beach in front of a small resort next to the popular Etoile du Sud hotel.
Jacques Able, who identified himself as the owner of Etoile du Sud, said one person had been killed at the hotel.
A receptionist there said everyone was safe afterwards.
Beachgoers could be seen lining up with their hands above their heads as they filed out of the area.
Residents who heard the gunfire hid in their homes, according to Josiane Sekongo, 25, who lives across from one of the many beachfront hotels.
A US embassy delegation was in Grand-Bassam on Sunday, but the US Embassy in Abidjan said it is monitoring the situation and has no evidence US citizens were targeted. It could bot confirm whether or not any were hurt.
Dozens of people were killed in the earlier attacks on West African tourist sites, starting with a siege at a Malian hotel in November and then an assault on a hotel and cafe in Burkina Faso in January.
Analysts have warned for months that Ivory Coast, which shares a border with both of those affected countries, could be hit by jihadists as well.
The West African attacks indicate that extremist attacks are spreading from North Africa, where a beach attack in June killed 38 people in Tunisia.
"I have always said that Abidjan (Ivory Coast) and Dakar (Senegal) are the next targets for jihadist groups because these two countries represent windows of France in Africa," said Lemine Ould M Salem, an expert on al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb and author of a book, The Bin Laden of the Sahara.
Speaking outside the Etoile du Sud later, Mr Outtara said: "I present my condolences to the families of the people who were murdered, and of course I am very proud of our security forces who reacted so fast.
"The toll could've been much heavier."
Meanwhile, the United States strongly condemned the attack, sending "thoughts and prayers to all affected by this senseless violence".
The US Embassy in Abidjan is making every effort to account for the welfare of American citizens in the area, according to the statement issued by State Department spokesman John Kirby.
The statement said Ivory Coast is an important regional partner to the US, adding: "In the days ahead we stand ready to support the Ivorian government as it investigates this heinous attack."