DAKAR, Senegal (AP) — Armed police now patrol the Ivory Coast beach where Islamic extremists killed at least 19 people earlier this month. And in Senegal's capital, Dakar, cars are pulled over for security checks of trunks, back seats and bags.
Across West Africa, security measures are being beefed up following a spate of deadly extremist attacks, including the assault Monday on a hotel in Mali that houses a European Union military mission.
Despite the precautions, there is widespread fear over where the jihadis will strike next.
"Of course I am scared. I am scared that these people will continue their attacks. But this is not Islam. Islam is peace," said Papis Sane, 42, who works at the Sea Plaza Mall in Dakar that is popular with foreigners. "It's God who protects ... Even with security, no one is 100 percent secure."
The attacks include one on the Radisson Blu hotel in Bamako, Mali in November, a popular hotel and cafe in Burkina Faso's capital, Ouagadougou, in January, and the shootings earlier this month at the Ivory Coast beach. Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, or AQIM, claimed responsibility for those attacks. Mali was targeted again Monday when gunmen attempted to invade a Bamako hotel where the EU training mission stays.
"Al-Qaida was undoubtedly aware of the recent intensification of security measures at hotels, restaurants and bars in major cities across West Africa, including in Abidjan. Targeting a popular beach just outside the capital illustrates how jihadist groups will almost always be able to circumnavigate heightened defense mechanisms and find soft targets," said Sean Smith, an Africa analyst at Verisk-Maplecroft Risk Consultancy after the Ivory Coast attack.
Killing civilians in cosmopolitan locations generates fear, he said, warning that Senegal's capital may be the next target.
"Dakar represents an attractive target for jihadists owing to its status as a regional hub for many Western businesses, U.N. agencies and international NGOs," he said. "Penetrating Dakar — particularly given Senegal's longstanding alliance with France — would constitute a major coup for AQIM because it is perceived as being far safer than capitals in the Sahel." Senegal also contributes more than 800 security personnel to the U.N. peacekeeping mission in northern Mali, he said.
Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb said it staged the Ivory Coast attack as revenge against the West African country for handing over prisoners to Mali, and as a warning to France, African and Western countries that it will destroy security for its citizens if not left safe in their lands in the Sahel, the region below the Sahara Desert.
Ghana also contributes troops and police officers to operations in north Mali, and could be the first target in English-speaking Africa, but Smith said: "For the moment Francophone countries remain at greater risk."
Ahouoi Albert, who works for a youth association in Ivory Coast, urged greater security.
"Terrorism didn't exist here before. Now it does. It is not acceptable," he said. "We are asking the government to take all measures to prevent this terrorism ... and the international community must help combat this in the region."