ivory coast shooting, police and dead man.jpg
Photograph: EPA/LEGNAN KOULA

Ivory Coast's president declared three days of mourning and raised the country's terrorism alert to its highest level Monday after attacks at beach resorts claimed by al-Qaeda left 21 people dead.

The death toll from Sunday's attacks at three beach hotels was lowered to 21 from 22 by Interior and Security Ministry Hamed Bakyoko.

The attacks took place in Grand-Bassam, 40 kilometres south-east of the economic capital Abidjan.

According to Bakyoko, 15 civilians, three soldiers and three gunmen were killed at the site popular with both Ivorians and foreigners.

Some 33 people were wounded.

President Alassane Ouattara declared three days of mourning and raised the terrorism alert to its maximum level of red.

Other measures taken at an extraordinary council of ministers included placing security forces on high alert and establishing a protective perimeter zone around embassies, schools, vital installations and key public places, including airports, ports and borders.

Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, the terrorist group's North Africa branch, claimed responsibility for the attack. The claim was carried by al-Akhbar, a news outlet often given statements by extremists in the region.

This was the third major attack by extremists in West Africa in the past several months.

Among the 21 dead were four foreigners, who included nationals from Germany, France, Cameroon and Burkina Faso.

However, French President Francois Hollande said that four French people had been killed in the attacks.

Hollande spoke Monday by phone to his Ivorian counterpart, the Elysee Palace said.

Expressing his condolences to the families of the victims, Hollande added that, "France supports the Ivory Coast in its initiatives to fight against terrorism and considers that cooperation between all states threatened by terrorist groups, especially in West Africa, must more than ever be intensified."

French Foreign Minister Jean Marc-Ayrault and Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve will visit the country on Tuesday to "show support to Ivorians," Ivorian government spokesman Kone Bruno said.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier had earlier in the day confirmed the death of a German national, who was identified as Henrike Grohs, 51, the head of the Goethe-Institut in Abidjan.

Grohs had led the institute from December 1, 2013.

"We are shocked that Henrike Grohs had to die in such a tragic and violent way," Goethe-Institut secretary general Johannes Ebert said in a statement.

"She loved her work and was full of ideas and the energy to bring these ideas to fruition with her partners. Our thoughts are with the family and the colleagues in Abidjan."

German Chancellor Angela Merkel expressed her condolences in a telegram to Ouattara for what she described as a "criminal act in which once again innocent people became victims of an inhuman ideology."

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