Sun, beach and swimming in the turquoise water of Saly, a seaside resort near Dakar, is the perfect vacation for many holiday makers, yet there are fewer tourists today due to the past jihadist attacks in West Africa.
Located 80 km southeast of the capital, Dakar, Saly is one of the largest resorts in Senegal and usually attracts many tourists from Europeans, majority being French.
“There are fewer people this year,” says Agnes Centolle in the street on the arm of her husband, Frank. This pair from Bordeaux, France just retired seven years ago and usually spend their holidays in Saly.
AQIM is clearly expanding their operations throughout West Africa and Senegal is a really attractive target.
On site for five months, they also noted “very significantly” strengthening security in the city, on the beaches, and at the entrance of the hotel, says Agnes.
According to several residents, security had been enhanced after the attack in neighboring Mali, on 20 November, a chic hotel in Bamako that left 20 dead and two attackers killed.
Other deadly jihadist bombings on 15 January in Ouagadougou (Burkina Faso) and March 22 in the Ivorian resort of Grand-Bassam, led to a new round of security screws.
“All these events have negatively affected tourism in general, including in Senegal,” says Boubacar Sabaly, CEO of Les Bougainvillea and chairman of the union initiative in the region.
His hotel, Ocher Walls Bougainvillea, is nestled in a colorful forest and hosts a sizeable number of tourists during the high season. But the deck chairs are now empty around the pool, close to the bar and now has more employees than customers .
The March deadly raid in Ivory Coast was the third major attack on hotels in West Africa since November, claimed by al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, al Qaeda’s North African wing known as AQIM, and Senegal is looking like the next likely victim.
The Islamic militant group has made clear the country is on its hit list because of its close ties to its former colonial ruler, France.
Senegal has been touted as one of West Africa’s most stable countries, remaining free from violent extremism so far. But regional experts and risk analysts said there are several factors that make Senegal a prime target for AQIM’s next attack, such as its porous borders, high unemployment, Muslim majority population and large number of European expatriates.
“AQIM is clearly expanding their operations throughout West Africa and Senegal is a really attractive target,” said Joshua Meservey, policy analyst for Africa and the Middle East at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative Washington think tank.
Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and linked groups operate freely across the deserts of northern Mali, a landlocked West African nation that borders Senegal, Ivory Coast and Burkina Faso, among others.
With its roots in Algeria, AQIM emerged in 2007 and has said it seeks to spread Islamic law as well as liberate Africans from their French colonial roots.
The group claimed responsibility for a deadly attack in January on the Hotel Splendid and Cappuccino Cafe in Burkina Faso’s capital of Ouagadougou, and a siege in November on the Radisson Blu hotel in the capital of Bamako in neighboring Mali.