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Ivory Coast: trial of Grand-Bassam attack begins

Ivorian security escorting a jihadist suspect   -  
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Ivory Coast

The trial of several defendants in the 2016 jihadist attack in the seaside town of Grand-Bassam, the first in Côte d'Ivoire that killed 19 people including European nationals, opened Wednesday in Abidjan.

The trial was due to start at 13:00 (local and GMT) before the Criminal Court (Court of Assizes) of Abidjan around which many security forces were deployed in the morning, noted a journalist from AFP.

The Grand Bassam attack, claimed by al-Qaeda, illustrated the fear already present in 2016 of an extension of jihadist violence in the Sahel to the countries of the Gulf of Guinea.

On March 13, 2016, three young assailants had marched up the beach at Grand-Bassam, near Abidjan and popular with foreigners, and then stormed several hotels and restaurants, firing Kalashnikovs at patrons on the terrace before being neutralized by Ivorian security forces.

Claimed by the branch of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (Aqmi), this jihadist attack left 19 people dead, including four French citizens.

"The judicial proceedings opened following this attack resulted in the referral of eighteen defendants to the criminal court to answer for terrorist acts, murder, attempted murder, receiving stolen goods, illegal possession of firearms and ammunition of war, and complicity in these acts," said Richard Adou, prosecutor of the Republic of Abidjan, in a statement a week ago.

He recalled that in addition to the four Frenchmen, nine Ivorians, one Lebanese, one German, one Macedonian, one Malian, one Nigerian, and one unidentified person were killed in the attack. Thirty-three people of various nationalities were also injured.

Only four of the accused, currently in provisional detention in Abidjan, should be present at this trial, the others being on the run or detained in Mali, according to Aude Rimailho, one of the lawyers of the French civil parties.

- Small hands" -

She believes that it is "the little hands" that will be judged and says she does not know "what to expect" from this trial.

"The designers of the attack are in Mali" and "the cooling of relations between France and Mali does not make things easier" for the trial of these defendants in Bamako, she told AFP.

Rimailho will not be present in Abidjan, saying she was "informed only last week" by the Ivorian Ministry of Justice.

In 2018, relatives of the four Frenchmen killed in Grand Bassam were received for the first time by the Parisian judge in charge of the investigation. In parallel with the Ivorian investigation, France had indeed opened a procedure because of the presence of these French victims.

Several dozen people, including the three accomplices of the dead attackers, were arrested after the attack, including in Mali.

In January 2017, soldiers of the French force Barkhane had captured a key suspect, Mimi Ould Baba Ould Cheikh, considered by Ivorian authorities as one of the brains of the attack and by Burkinabe authorities as the "head of operations" of another attack that killed 30 people in Ouagadougou in January 2016.

Perpetrated in retaliation for the Serval and Barkhane anti-jihadist operations conducted by France and its allies in the Sahel region, the attack also targeted Côte d'Ivoire, which had handed over Aqmi members to Malian authorities.

In 2020 and 2021, defense and security forces were targeted by deadly attacks attributed to jihadist groups in northern Côte d'Ivoire, which has not, however, seen any attacks against civilians since the one in Grand Bassam.

An attack that has severely tested the tourism sector in this country, already weakened by the post-election crisis of 2010-2011, which left some 3,000 dead.

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