Ivory Coast boosts port security over attack threat

Reuters News
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Posted: Mar 26, 2017 9:49 AM

ABIDJAN (Reuters) - Ivory Coast has ordered increased security at its two main ports after receiving information indicating a threat of "probable terrorist attacks" on its national territory, according to a transport ministry document seen by Reuters on Sunday.

The decision comes amid a regional maritime exercise -- known as Obangame Express -- sponsored by the U.S. military's Africa Command and little more than a year after al Qaeda militants attacked an Ivory Coast beach resort.

The document, dated March 24 and verified as authentic by a senior Ivorian maritime security official, did not give further detail on the specific nature of the threat but it increased security under the International Ship and Port Facility Security (ISPS) code to level two, indicating a higher than normal threat level requiring tightened security both in ports and on ships.

"Security level two will apply for an undetermined duration, beginning from Friday March 24," the document stated.

The measures apply to the ports of Abidjan and San Pedro, both important hubs for West African imports and exports, notably of cocoa. Ivory Coast is the world's biggest cocoa producer.

Ivory Coast's head of maritime security was not immediately reachable for comment. Government spokesman Bruno Kone said he was not aware of the increased security measures.

Nearly 20 African nations are participating in the Obangame Express training exercises, most of which are to take place offshore of Ivory Coast's commercial capital Abidjan.

In addition to its U.S. military sponsor, other international participants include Belgium, Brazil, Germany, Turkey, France, Denmark, Canada, Spain, Norway, the Netherlands, Portugal and the United Kingdom.

Ivory Coast has been a staunch ally of the West in the fight against the growing threat of Islamist militancy in West Africa and its arid Sahel region, making it a declared target for reprisals by groups including al Qaeda.

Militants from al Qaeda's North African branch stormed the Ivorian beach resort town of Grand Bassam on March 13 last year, gunning down swimmers and sunbathers in an attack that killed 19 people.

(Reporting by Ange Aboa and Joe Bavier; Editing by Susan Thomas and David Goodman)