Ivory Coast trial opens for 18 accused in Grand Bassam beach attack

ABIDJAN (Reuters) - The trial of 18 people accused of responsibility for the deadly 2016 attack on a beach resort in Grand Bassam, Ivory Coast, opened on Wednesday in the country's main city, Abidjan.

The attack was the first of its kind in Ivory Coast and confirmed fears of Islamists' growing reach in West Africa at the time. Gunmen from al Qaeda's North African branch killed 19 people and wounded 33 when they opened fire on the beach.

The defendants face charges of terrorism, assassination, attempted assassination, harbouring of criminals, and illegal possession of firearms and ammunition, according to a statement by public prosecutor Richard Adou.

All of them are foreign nationals, he said, although their nationalities were not revealed.

Only four of the 18 defendants were present at the Abidjan courthouse on Wednesday, where security had been reinforced with a heavy contingent of armoured vehicles and soldiers.

The others are still at large, the judge said.

Questioning began in a room packed full of journalists and victims' relatives, but the defendants were not yet asked to plead. The trial was adjourned to the following day and is expected to last for several weeks.

(Reporting by Ange Aboa; Writing by Nellie Peyton; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

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