In the past 12 months there have been several armed attacks on hotels or tourist spots in North Africa, East and West Africa.
We will briefly examine the West African attacks and try and establish trends, patterns and possible lessons for Nigeria or other West African states.
Cote D’Ivoire is a Francophone country bordered by Liberia and Guinea to the west, Mali and Burkina Faso to the north, Ghana to the east and the Gulf of Guinea to the south. It has the second largest economy in West Africa based on agriculture and a large expatriate (mainly French) community and hosts a strong French military presence and is a logistics hub for Op Barkhane.
Cote d’ Ivoire experienced a series of crises since the death of long term ruler Felix Houphouet Boigney and the introduction of multiparty elections, in which politicians introduced ethnic and identity politics, leading to a coup and two civil wars. The second civil war ended pitted the Northern New Forces led by Alassane Quattara against Laurent Gbagbo’s government after the latter refused to cede power. Quattara’s forces supported by UN and French forces defeated Gbagbo in 2011.
Grand Bassam attack
The attacks took place on Sunday 13 March 2016 around 1.00pm lasting until early evening in Grand Bassam, Grand Bassam Department, Comoe District, a beach resort in the south of the country approximately 40km east of Abidjan.
The resorts are on a spit of land connected to Old Grand Bassam by bridge and a road running east-west on the spit. Grand Bassam itself is linked to the mainland by 2 bridges east and west of the town. In essence an area easy to isolate.
Witnesses state 4 men arrived in a Ford Saloon car. Two remained in the vehicle whilst two entered a bar and drank for about 30 minutes (placing orders in English). The two in the car reportedly initiated the attack with small arms fire, followed by the 2 in the bar.
Witnesses report at least 3 attackers walking down the beach firing at civilians in front of L’Etoile du Sud Hotel and then moving east past Wharf Hotel, shooting civilians, reportedly targeting Europeans and Christians, Ivorien security forces engaged them as they got to La Nouvelle Paillote Hotel surrounding and then assaulting the hotel, killing at least 2. 1 is thought to have escaped.
Ivorien Police responded in 15 minutes followed by GSPR and UIGN (National Gendarmerie Special Forces) 45 minutes later. They reportedly surrounded the gunmen in La Nouvelle Paillote Hotel, around 6.30pm killing 2 attackers and losing 2 soldiers. 2 civilians were killed and 11 wounded in the crossfire
Witnesses have estimated there were 3-6 attackers. They were said to be black African communicate in French, English and Arabic and were. They were reportedly dressed casually in T shirts and jeans, with one man in a waiter’s uniform. They were armed with AK variant assault rifles and hand grenades had AK chest webbing with several magazines and hand grenades.
The attack resulted in 19 dead and 24 wounded. Ivorien civilians (8), Ivorien military (3), France (4), Germany (1), Lebanon (1), Nigeria (1) and Macedonia (1).
Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) Sahara Emirate and Katibat al Mourabitoun claimed the attack via social media (Twitter and Telegram), in Arabic, French, Spanish and English stating there were 3 x attackers, named as Hamza al Fulani, Abou Adam al Ansari (from Katibat al Mourabitoun) and Abdurahman al Fulani (from AQIM Sahara Emirate)
Burkina Faso is a Francophone country bordering Cote d’Ivoire to the south west, Mali to the North, Niger to the east, Benin Republic to the southeast and Togo and Ghana to the south.
It is a fairly poor country with an economy dependant on cotton exports and a large mainly French expatriates community and hosts a French Special Forces base in Ouagadougou, as well as US intelligence and military troops and facilities.
Until October 2014 it was ruled by Blaise Compaore, who was overthrown by popular revolt. The resulting provisional government was overthrown in September 2015 in a botched coup which failed after a week under pressure. Current President Roch Marc Christian Kabore was elected in November 2015.
Compaore (who overthrew popular President Thomas Sankara in 1987) was implicated in involvement in the Liberian and Sierra Leonean conflicts and smuggling of ‘blood diamonds’, (Burkina Faso allegedly laundered 40% of the diamonds illegally mined by the RUF in Sierra Leone during the Sierra Leonean Civil War He was closely allied with Muammar Ghaddafi of Libya as well as France.
The attack began around 7.30pm, Friday 15 January 2016 ending approximately 8.00am the next day and took place on Avenue Kwame Nkrumah, in Ouagadougou city centre, which is less than a kilometre from the airport and Air Force Base (where US military and intelligence personnel operate).
Approximately 6 gunmen drove up Avenue Kwame Nkrumah, set several cars on fire and then attacked Cappuccino Café around 7.30pm with small arms, shooting guests and staff with Europeans being targeted specifically, at least 10 bodies were recovered from the cafe. They then set the building alight shooting anyone trying to escape. About an hour later they crossed over to the Hotel Splendid, taking hostages and murdering people particularly Europeans, using IEDs and grenades as booby traps. Burkinabe forces established a cordon and imposed an 11.00pm to 6.00am curfew. Burkinabe Special forces then assaulted Hotel Splendid around 1.00am supported by French and US Special Forces in an advisory role, killing 3 attackers. The fourth retreated to Hotel YIBI on the other side of the road, where he was killed around 7.30am
There were at least 4 attackers and possibly up to 6 armed with AK variant rifles, grenades and IEDs; described some of being of Taureg/ Arab appearance, speaking an unfamiliar language, recovered bodies were of a black African and lighter skinned person who appeared very youthful (less than 26). In addition to those who arrived in the vehicle some were believed to be masquerading as guests and some reportedly arrived later during the incident. 3-4 are believed to have escaped. Witnesses state there were at least 2 women; specifically stating the attackers at the café were a black African woman with braids/ dreadlocks and 2 x Arab/Tauregs.
176 people taken hostage in the hotel were rescued, 56 wounded (including at least 1 Burkinabe soldier and French soldier) and 30 killed- Burkinabe civilians (7), French (2), Canada (6), Ukraine (4), USA (1), Switzerland (2), Netherlands (1), Libya (1), Portugal (1).
Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) claimed the assault in Arabic, French, Spanish and English via social media (Twitter and Telegram), stating there were 3 x attackers named as Battar al Ansari, Abu Muhammad al Buqali al Ansari and Ahmed al Fulani al Ansari. (2 Black Africans and 1 Taureg)
Mali is a Francophone country bordering Guinea to the south west, Senegal and Mauritania to the west, Algeria to the North, Niger to the east, Burkina Faso and Cote d’Ivoire to the south and Guinea to the southwest. It is a very poor country with an economy dependant on agriculture and cotton exports and limited oil exploration.
It has undergone several Taureg rebellions since independence and is a major narcotics and smuggling hub. The last Taureg uprising in 2012, following the defeat of the Ghaddafi regime led to Northern Mali being overrun by the MNLA, Ansar el Dine and AQIM, who declared an independent Azawad. Ansar el Dine, AQIM and MUJAO implemented their version of sharia. The north was eventually liberated by French forces in January 2013 supported by Malian forces.
Several foreign forces are based in Mali; a UN peacekeeping force MINUSMA, an EU Training Mission EUTM) and French Op Barkhane forces based in Gao and operating mainly in the north.
The attacks took place between 7.00am on Friday 20 November 2015 in the Radisson Blu, Hamdallaye Hamdallaye Street, ACI 2000 Quartier, Commune III, which is the administrative and commercial centre of Bamako.
Gunmen arrived outside the hotel in a vehicle with diplomatic plates, shot the guards and then entered the hotel taking up to 150 hostages. They went room to room reportedly asking people to recite Koranic verses, capturing or murdering those who could not but releasing approximately 80 people. At least 2 attackers, who reportedly spoke English and a non Malian African language, were in their early 20’s.
UN peacekeepers and Malian soldiers established a cordon, whilst Malian special forces supported by French GIGN and US Special Forces assaulted the hotel, freeing hostages and killing the attackers. 5 days later Malian forces arrested 2 x Malians in their 30’s near Bamako, linked to the attackers through their mobile phones.
22 people were killed and 7 wounded; Mali (6), Russia (6), China (3), Belgium (2), Israel (1), USA (1), Senegal (1) and 2 x attackers.
The attack was claimed by Khatibat al Mourabitoun through Twitter, as well as in a follow up audio recording to the media. The initial claim by Al Mourabitoun demanded the release of jihadi prisoners and French withdrawal from Mali. The Macina Liberation Front also claimed the attack. The attackers were identified by Al Mourabitoun as Abdul Hakim al Ansari and Mu’adh al-Ansari. Photos released by AQIM showed 2 young men or boys (16-20) wearing Nigeria Army type uniform, with AK variant rifles and grenades.
A review of these attacks shows several common factors
Objectives: the key objective appears to be propaganda of the deed, to cause mass casualties particularly amongst non Africans and non Muslims in order to draw attention to the perpetrators cause and influence the strategic outlook of the target country. Within the claims of responsibility specific demands or accusations are made with professional media pieces disseminated to exploit these attacks.
Target countries: all the attacks have taken place in Francophone countries with a foreign (i.e. French) military presence, Mali and Burkina Faso host operational units of Op Barkhane whilst Cote d’Ivoire hosts troops and is an important logistical base. At the same time all these countries have witnessed recent political upheaval which has affected their security forces and increased the number of small arms in circulation.
Target locations: the attacks have taken place in urban and beach locations, focusing on hotels and resorts frequented by foreigners and the local elite. These have generally been located in major (or capital cities) or close to them. Many of these targets have been close to military establishments, containing Special Forces.
Target people: attackers have specifically targeted non Muslims and Europeans, however as is the case most casualties have been local nationals. They do not appear to discriminate by tribe or nationality only religion.
Attackers: the attackers are generally very young male, non-locals, with sufficient training to handle weapons properly and resist security forces for a period and inflict casualties. The attackers have used a mixture of stealth, deception and disguise to approach and infiltrate their targets. Basic light infantry weapons, such as grenades and rifles have either been cached or hidden, with some attackers gaining access by masquerading as guests or employees. Their tactics have been fairly simple; gain access (through stealth or infiltration), create as many casualties as possible until the security forces respond and then conduct fighting withdrawals until cornered and eliminated. Interestingly there have been no deliberate suicide attacks yet.
All the attacks in West Africa thus far have all been claimed by the AQIM Sahara Emirate (led by Yahya Abu al Hammam) or its offshoots such as Khatibat al Mourabitoun (led by Mokhtar Belmokhtar) or the Macina Liberation Front. In North Africa these attacks have been claimed by Daesh affiliates and in East Africa by al Shabaab.
The attackers have very quickly capitalised on the publicity from these attacks using social media, most likely to ensure their message is not filtered or blocked by traditional media outlets. By attacking Westerners, their actions guarantee global media coverage, by discriminating between Muslims and non Muslims, it reinforces their narrative as defenders of the Islamic faith.
Implications for Nigeria
These attacks are symptomatic of the evolution of the conflict in the Sahel as well as the struggle for primacy between Daesh and Al Qaeda.
All the target countries have been Francophone, pro Western countries, with a significant foreign military presence. They have all suffered recent political upheaval and/ or conflict and border unstable states with ungoverned spaces. In this context the most likely target for the next attacks would be Senegal, Cameroun, Gabon, Niger, Mauritania or Chad. By attacking tourist spots in strong economies like Cote D’Ivoire or hotels full of aid workers like in Mali, it damages the country’s sources of income.
Nigeria is already a key target for local and transnational terrorist’s franchises. It presents the kind of high profile target rich environment that would guarantee success and publicity for a perpetrator.
With active conflicts and contested spaces in the North East, South South and Middle Belt and well armed Islamic, tribal and criminal groups, light weapons, grenades and IEDs are easily accessible to as well as the trained, motivated personnel needed to perpetrate these acts..
Likely target cities include as Lagos, Abuja or Port Harcourt, which have large numbers of foreign visitors, wealthy Nigerians and luxury hotels and shopping malls however other cities such as Kano, Kaduna, Sokoto, Calabar, Benin also have the right target set.
The type of attacks could differ by location and perpetrator; criminal or militant groups in the South would be more likely to take hostages for publicity, to obtain and favourable bargaining position or kidnap for ransom. In the north the attacks would most likely follow the pattern of those in other countries, where most have been conducted by AQIM or their affiliates.
In Nigeria, the closest associate to AQIM is Ansaru (in as much as they still exist), who whilst extremely brutal have shown an inclination to discriminate in their attacks (between Muslims and non Muslims)
However other than this minor distinction, an attack by Ansaru, Boko Haram or any other extremist religiously inspired group, would inevitably be a mass casualty event.
This is relevant as Ansaru’s links to MUJAO and AQIM are very strong. It might be significant that the nom de guerre of most of the attackers is ‘al Ansari’, they spoke languages foreign to target countries (Hausa, Fulani or Arabic would be at least recognisable) or wore Nigeria Army type uniforms in some propaganda videos.
These attacks are cheap and relatively easy to mount. Whilst most attacks are perpetrated by AQIM, they are easy to copy and replicate and any group with access to weapons and motivated individuals can commit these attacks.
As Boko Haram sees its battlefield fortunes wane, the coalition of jihadists, criminals and mercenaries could split and splinter.
If Ansaru or another successor group wishes to assert its independence or herald its alliance with AQIM, the hotel/ resort attack would be the ideal vehicle.
In the next instalment we will review the process by which these attacks are planned and executed and potential counter measures