Ivory Coast Probes First Suspected Jihadist Raid Since 2016 

(Bloomberg) --

The government of Ivory Coast is investigating an attack that could be the first assault by Islamist insurgents since 2016 within the borders of the world’s biggest cocoa grower.

The raid took place in the early hours of Thursday morning in the Kong region in northern Ivory Coast near the border with Burkina Faso, the defense ministry said in a statement. Eleven of the 12 people killed in the attack were soldiers, according to an army official who asked not to be identified as the person wasn’t authorized to speak to the media. The other victim was a paramilitary police officer, the person said.

“An investigation is underway to determine the nature, circumstances and exact number of casualties of this attack,” the ministry said. “The president and government reassure the populations that all measures are being put in place to secure the region.”

This would be the first Islamist militant attack in Ivory Coast since a March 2016 raid on the beach resort of Grand-Bassam left 19 people dead. There has been growing concern that insurgents have been moving further south since groups affiliated to al-Qaeda occupied urban centers in northern Mali in 2012. That violence has already spilled over to several other countries in the region.

The assault comes after attacks in northern neighbor, Burkina Faso, doubled in the first four months of the year. Militants linked to al-Qaeda’s Group for the Support of Islam and Muslims, known by its acronym JNIM, are known to operate in the area.

“Attacks are likely to remain sporadic and opportunistic in nature, targeting mainly military facilities, limiting the direct business impact in the short term,” Alexandre Raymakers, an Africa analyst at Verisk Maplecroft, said in an emailed note. The U.K.-based risk consultancy plans to review its assessment of Ivory Coast’s terrorism risk “as JNIM becomes further embedded in the north of the country,” he wrote.

The U.S. embassy in Abidjan, Ivory Coast’s capital, advised Americans earlier this month to avoid visiting the country’s north and northeastern border regions, where Ivorian and Burkinabe forces have been carrying out operations. France issued a similar warning last year.

Both Western powers have supported efforts to push back jihadists. The U.S. has built a $110 million airbase in the Nigerien city of Agadez, while France has more than 5,000 troops across the region as part of a counter-terrorism mission.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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