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Gunmen attack 3 Ivory Coast hotels; al Qaeda affiliate claims responsibility

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Gunmen killed 16 people Sunday when they stormed into three hotels in the beach resort city of Grand-Bassam, Ivory Coast, officials said.

Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb claimed responsibility for the attacks in a statement posted on a social media account tied to the group.

The death toll included 14 civilians and two soldiers, President Alassane Ouattara said as he visited the site of the attacks. Six attackers also died, he said.

Video from the scene — about 40 kilometers (25 miles) from the country’s largest city, Abidjan — appeared to show people fleeing from a hotel during the attack.

A photo posted by Twitter user @lopezdobe showed ammunition magazines and grenades on the ground near the scene.

French President Francois Hollande condemned what he called a “cowardly attack” and pledged French support to find out who was responsible for the attack. At least one French citizen was killed, he said.

The U.S. Embassy in Abidjan reported that it had no evidence that U.S. citizens were targeted or harmed.

The French Embassy said it had set up a crisis unit and asked people to limit travel in the area and stay clear of security forces. The British Foreign Office had similar advice.

The identity of the gunmen was not immediately known.

Al Qaeda offshoot was behind other hotel attacks

Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb has targeted hotels in West Africa before.

In the past year, the group claimed credit for hotel attacks in two countries bordering Ivory Coast — Mali and Burkina Faso.

Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, al Qaeda’s North African offshoot known as AQIM, has its roots in Algeria.

After a downturn in its activities, the al Qaeda affiliate has been stepping up attacks.

“AQIM has escalated its operations in West Africa, specifically targeting Europeans, as well as other foreigners, in hotels and resorts,” the SITE Intelligence Group said in a statement analyzing the attack Sunday.

But targeting Westerners isn’t the only goal, according to SITE, which tracks jihadist groups.

“AQIM is also competing with ISIS for reassertion and dominance in West Africa, among other regions,” SITE said.