Ivory Coast marks sombre anniversary after jihadist attack on beach resort
A year after a jihadist attack bloodied the sands of Ivory Coast's popular beach resort Grand-Bassam, killing 19 people, national leaders and locals marked a solemn anniversary Monday vowing to stand firm against the threat of terrorism.
Hundreds of mourners wearing white joined in the day of remembrance to honour the victims of the assault, which was claimed by Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, marking the first attack of its kind in the west African state.
Their silent march led to the site in the town, about 40 kilometres (25 miles) from Abidjan, where a commemorative column bearing the names of the victims was unveiled.
"Grand Bassam is being reborn and moving on. Everyone in Ivory Coast must move forward, and we must be resolute in our fight against terrorism", Vice President Daniel Kablan Duncan said.
"I am glad to note that, one year later, Bassam is standing tall. People have not let themselves fall apart... and life is returning", he told the ceremony, also attended by Prime Minister Amadou Gon Coulibaly and legislative leader Guillaume Soro.
On March 13, 2016 three gunmen moved along the beach and stormed three adjacent hotels, sometimes shooting people in the sand. The victims included a Nigerian, four French citizens, a German, a Macedonian and a Lebanese national as well as Ivorians.
The jihadists claimed the attack was in retaliation for anti-terror operations in the Sahel region led by France and its allies.
Dozens of people including Ivorian soldiers, and suspects in Mali and Burkina Faso, have since been arrested over the killings, and Interior Minister Hamed Bakayoko said the authorities had "names of the chain of command for those who designed and carried out Bassam".
"It hurts so much for us to be here. But this is life... what can we do?" the sister of Gervais Kouadio N'Guessan, one of the victims, said at the ceremony.
Corinne Lechevalier, the manager of the Etoile du Sud hotel which was struck, said the terror attack had devastated the local economy in Bassam, which served as France's first colonial capital and was still a popular resort destination for foreign tourists.
"There is so much emotion in the hearts, and so much pain... for those who have suffered from this inexplicable hatred, the folly of these men... Obviously this was a terrible economic blow to the hotel,"said Lechevalier.
He added that security improvements had been made over the past year which would help to erase the memory of the bloodbath. "I want to believe this is far behind us and that terrorism will be defeated".