AFRICA/IVORY COAST - Assault in Grand Bassam: a hundred people take refuge in the cathedral, the testimony of the pastor

Monday, 14 March 2016 terrorism  

Abidjan (Agenzia Fides) - "The Sacred Heart of Jesus protected us, and the hundreds of people who took refuge at our parish" says Fr. Armand Zanou, parish priest of the Sacred Heart Cathedral in Grand-Bassam, where yesterday, 13 March, a group of terrorists attacked some tourists on the beach resort, killing 16 people. "The Cathedral, the oldest church of the Ivory Coast, is located near the beaches attacked" says Fr. Armand to Agenzia Fides.
"We had started a procession outside our church around noon. At about 1pm we heard the first shots of firearms and soon after we saw several people run away from the beach and come towards us. We asked them what was happening and they told us that gunmen were firing on people. While the noise of the shooting intensified, the number of those who sought refuge at the Cathedral increased.
Later, after about an hour, the special military forces arrived and brought about fifty hostages who were freed from the attacked resort. They protected us until the area was declared safe, at around 7.30 pm"
"The shooting of the terrorists followed by the clash with the army lasted about 45 minutes, maybe an hour. The exchange of gunfire was very violent. All the people who sought refuge in the presbytery of the church threw themselves on the floor. We had three groups of people who sought refuge in the presbytery: the parishioners who were there for our activities and were blocked by the events; the first wave of holidaymakers who escaped from the terrorists and the third group, made up of hostages freed by special forces who were brought in the church. In total about one hundred people including Ivorians, French, Belgian, Lebanese and other nationalities. There were also several children".
Fr. Armand Zanou emphasizes that, unfortunately, the Cathedral suffered some damage. In fact, when the former hostages were taken by the military in front of the door of the church, one of the soldiers, who obviously had not received orders in this regard, called his command to ask where to leave the hostages rescued and he was told to take them at our church. "Since the church was closed, because I had decided to use the presbytery as a refuge - recalls the priest - the military started to break windows to allow civilians in. However the military protected us until the end of the emergency". (L.M.) (Agenzia Fides 14/03/2016)