After Côte d'Ivoire attacks, Senegal could be next

Police on Grand-Bassam in Côte d'Ivoire after the attacks
Police on Grand-Bassam in Côte d'Ivoire after the attacks REUTERS/Joe Penney

The attack comes after warnings from France of possible terrorist attacks on both Cote d'Ivoire and Senegal. Côte d'Ivoire has become the latest link in a chain of violence-hit countries – from Nigeria, where the Islamic State affiliate Boko Haram is still a force despite recent government efforts, to Somalia, where al-Shabaab extremists appear resurgent. 


After Cote d'Ivoire attacks, Senegal could be next

Despite the warnings issued by the French government in January, it's really hard to say how anyone could have prevented this type of attack.

"This is an important wake-up call for Cote d'Ivoire as well as its neighbours and most of West Africa to realise that the security situation has drastically changed," Bat-el Ohayon, a security analyst specializing in West/Central Africa at Afrique Consulting told RFI.

“And now it’s really time to come up with a solution or a united front against this threat because the solution can’t be a singular response by each country, it needs to be regional, much like the Barkhane operation - the French response to this threat."

Cote d'Ivoire and France

She said that Côte d'Ivoire is very important for France, that it had a very large expats community, and that, economically, it was one of the strongest countries in French West Africa.

"I think that this is an attack on France, but I think it’s also a demonstration of the growing capabilities of Al Qaeda in West Africa, it’s them following through on their threats and they need to be taken seriously. The threat is regional and attacks are going to continue at this rate.”

AQIM has claimed the attacks, but because of the modus operandi, some experts believe Boko Haram could be behind it as well.

“The French army has military deployed in Côte d’Ivoire, the very same military that’s fighting AQIM within Operation Serval (Operation Serval was a French military operation in Mali).

"The aim of the operation was to oust Islamic militants in the north of Mali, who had begun a push into the center of Mali," Chems Akrouf, an intelligence and military expert, told RFI.

"That’s why AQIM want to fight them. But they don’t have the possibility to operate in Côte d’Ivoire, and there are a lot of links between them and Boko Haram, and I think maybe this attack was a sort of request from Boko Haram to AQIM.”

But Bat-el Ohayon disagreed. She did not believe this could have been Boko Haram for different reasons.

“It is interesting to note that the modus operandi, the way that the attack was carried out was very different than what we saw for example in Burkina Faso or in Mali. It’s interesting to note that in Mali and Burkina Faso, we had hostage situations, we also had explosions, or the use of different kinds of weaponry than what we saw in Côte d’Ivoire," she told RFI. 

"That is interesting but I don’t think that this points to it being Boko Haram. I think Boko Haram is very very busy now with their fight in Nigeria, in Southern Niger, North of Cameroon… I couldn’t really see this as being Boko Haram but then again, details are still scarce as to who these people were."

West Africa problems

According to experts, we can almost certainly expect more attacks in the region. West Africa seems to be the new front, and expanding. It's not so much about the volume of attacks, but rather the geographical scope that's getting wider...

“Having predominantly concentrated attacks in Northern Mali, they’ve moved to the South, that’s what we saw in 2015, with attacks in Bamako and Sevare, but also major attacks in Ouagadougou and now in Côte d’Ivoire, so it shows that they’re broadening their regional horizons and demonstrating that no country in the region is immune from attacks," Sean Smith, the West Africa political risk analyst at Verisk Maplecroft, told RFI.

"Certainly the obvious attack target would be a major city like Dakar, given the links to France, given the high number of international personnel concentrated in the city, Dakar would represent a very attractive target for groups such as AQIM. And again it’s a contributing country to MINUSMA, AQIM would use that as a justification for attacking Senegal.”

He explains that AQIM have changed their way of attacking as well, that they’re going bigger.

“Rather than targeting UN personnel as was traditionally the case they’ve moved on to targeting higher profile, attention generating targets that instills fear across the region, and across the world really."

He explained that anyone watching this in Europe or North America could easily imagine themselves being on that beach, during that attack, and so it resonated with people around the world and it can have a devastating economic effect as we’ve seen in Mali.

"Tourism there has been absolutely decimated by ongoing attacks, and if groups such as Al Qaeda continue to launch attacks in other countries, then it’s really going to damage the industries in those neighbouring countries.”

Analysts agree on the fact that France is a target, so countries with strong ties to it should be the most careful.

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