A court in Ivory Coast on Wednesday handed down life terms to four Malian men convicted of abetting a jihadi attack on a beach resort that left 19 people dead.
The court in Abidjan, the country’s commercial hub, found the four “guilty of the deeds for which they are accused and sentences them to life imprisonment,” Judge Charles Bini announced.
The March 13, 2016, assault was the first jihadist attack in Ivory Coast, one of West Africa’s economic powerhouses.
In an operation echoing a jihadi massacre the previous year in Tunisia, three men wielding assault rifles stormed the beach at Grand-Bassam, a resort 40 kilometers east of Abidjan popular with Europeans, before attacking hotels and restaurants.
The 45-minute bloodbath ended when Ivorian security forces shot the attackers dead.
The 19 fatalities comprised nine Ivorians, four French citizens, a Lebanese, a German, a Macedonian, a Malian, a Nigerian and a person who could not be identified.
Thirty-three people of various nationalities were wounded.
Al-Qaida’s North African affiliate, al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), claimed responsibility the same day.
It said the attack was in response to anti-jihadi operations in the Sahel by France and its allies, and targeted Ivory Coast for having handed over AQIM operatives to Mali.
Several dozen people were later arrested, including three suspected accomplices of the dead attackers, who were detained in Mali.
Eighteen were charged in Ivory Coast with acts of terrorism, murder, attempted murder, criminal concealment, illegal possession of firearms and ammunition “and complicity in these deeds,” said Public Prosecutor Richard Adou.
“We have to discourage the followers of these terrorist acts,” he said, summing up his case before Wednesday’s verdict.
“We have been confronted with horror and barbarity.”
Of the 18, only four — Hantao Ag Mohamed Cisse, Sidi Mohamed Kounta, Mohamed Cisse and Hassan Barry — were present in court.
They allegedly played a subsidiary role.
The 14 others, including the suspected masterminds, are either on the run or being held in Mali, Aude Rimailho, a lawyer for French civilian plaintiffs, said before the trial.
Seven of these 14 were handed life sentences in absentia, and the other seven were acquitted.
Defense lawyer Eric Saki said he had “mixed feelings” about the verdict.
“I am happy for those who have been declared totally innocent, but I am sad for the four who, from my point of view, should also have benefited from an acquittal.”
The attack on Grand-Bassam was the first and so far deadliest in a string of sporadic attacks on countries on the Gulf of Guinea south of the Sahel.