Suspected jihadists attacked an army frontier post on Ivory Coast’s border with Burkina Faso overnight, killing around 10 people, the military said on Thursday.
It is the first assault by Islamist extremists on Ivorian soil since March 2016, when a raid on the southeastern beach resort of Grand-Bassam left 19 people dead.
Dozens of gunmen targeted the frontier post at Kafolo in northeastern Ivory Coast in a pre-dawn operation, an Ivorian security source said.
Giving a provisional toll, armed forces chief of staff Lassina Doumbia said “around 10” people were killed at the post, which was manned by army personnel and gendarmes, while six were wounded and an attacker was “neutralised”.
“Investigations are under way to determine the nature, circumstances and final toll of this attack,” Doumbia said in a statement.
“In the meantime, urgent steps have been taken in the area, in particular placing all troops on alert and carrying out search operations for the assailants.”
Ivorian and Burkinabe sources earlier put the toll at 10 and 12 dead respectively, and both said two people were listed as missing and an assailant killed.
“This is a terrorist attack. We had information about this threat of drug traffickers allied to terrorists to gain access to a port area,” Defence Minister Hamed Bakayoko said as he greeted the wounded at Abidjan airport at the end of the day.
The army will conduct air raids in the coming days and will “strengthen our presence around the frontier”, he said.
“The response will be proportionate to the attack,” he said.
– ‘Hiding in our houses’ –
“There were sounds of rifles toward the river,” an anonymous Kafolo resident said in a telephone interview.
“There were sounds of military cars speeding through the village. We are afraid. The sounds of guns have been going on since early this morning. And it’s still going on.”
“We are hiding in the houses with our families. The military has forbidden us to go out. Everything is closed,” he said, adding that residents are normally in the fields growing cotton and peanuts in the arid area.
The attack, launched at around 3am, was carried out by dozens of armed individuals believed to be from the Group to Support Islam and Muslims (GSIM), which has a hold on the area, according to a source in Burkina Faso.
Security analysts have long worried that a jihadist revolt in the Sahel that began in Mali in 2012 is spreading towards coastal states on the Gulf of Guinea.
Ivory Coast shares a 550-kilometre (340-mile) border with Burkina Faso, where jihadist violence has claimed nearly 1,000 lives and forced 860,000 people from their homes over the past five years.
– Anti-jihadist operation –
The latest attack took place in the same zone where the two countries last month launched a ground-breaking joint operation to flush out jihadists.
“Operation Comoe,” named after a river that flows through the two countries, led to the death of eight suspected jihadists, the capture of 38 others and the destruction of a “terrorist base” at Alidougou in Burkina Faso, the Ivory Coast army said on May 24.
The operation was launched after jihadists were spotted last year to the north of Ivory Coast’s Comoe national park.
Security sources say they are jihadists operating in Burkina Faso who hole up in Ivory Coast.
The Grand-Bassam attack four years ago was claimed by Al-Qaeda’s North African affiliate, Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).
It targeted civilians on hotel terraces in the resort, in contrast with the latest attack which aimed at a border post manned by the military and police.
Jihadist violence, often intertwined with inter-communal violence, resulted in 4,000 deaths in Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso in 2019, according to the United Nations. AFP