ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast (AP) — Four of the defendants arrested in connection with a 2016 Islamic extremist attack that killed 19 people on an Ivory Coast tourist beach appeared in court Wednesday to face murder and terrorism charges.
Authorities last week had released the names of 18 defendants accused in the Grand-Bassam killings, which were later claimed by al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb.
It was the nation's first terror attack of its kind, and deepened fears that Islamic extremism was spreading further south from neighboring Mali and Burkina Faso. In the year after the killings, suspects also were arrested in those countries as well as in Senegal.
Prosecutors did not address where the other defendants were on Wednesday or whether they might appear at a later date.
Prosper Kouassi, a defense lawyer representing the detainees, could not provide an explanation either.
“We were presented the four people, it is the four people we will defend," Kouassi said.
Grand-Bassam is linked by highway to Abidjan, Ivory Coast’s commercial hub, and was a popular weekend destination for beach-goers. The victims that day included 11 Ivorians, four French, one German, one Lebanese, one Macedonian and one Nigerian.
When gunfire broke out on the beach on that Sunday afternoon in 2016, many holidaymakers initially thought they were hearing fireworks. As the jihadis approached closer with their Kalashnikov assault rifles, terrified tourists and workers at the beachside bars and restaurants tried to seek refuge in nearby hotels. Some beachgoers who were in the ocean at the time of the attack were able to swim out against the waves to safety.
Among those in the courthouse to watch the proceedings Wednesday was Odile Koko Kouamenan, whose son was there that day in 2016 and has never been the same since, she said.
“The scene happened in front of him," she recalled, "He was a witness on the ground and so traumatized that he left the city and went to the village for a year."
Her son needs follow-up care, which he hasn't gotten, she added.
“If the state can face him and help him, that’s all a mother wishes for her child.”
Associated Press writer Krista Larson in Dakar, Senegal contributed.