Armed with grenades and assault riffles, the attackers stormed three hotels in the sleepy resort of Grand-Bassam, popular with expats, around 40 kilometres (25 miles) east of the commercial hub Abidjan.

Witnesses described panic as the gunmen sprayed bullets across the beach, and one told media that they heard an assailant shouting 'Allahu Akbar' - Arabic for 'God is greatest'.

Fourteen civilians and two special forces troops were killed in the shooting spree, along with six assailants, according to Ivory Coast's President Alassane Ouattara.

One French and one German national were among the dead, according to Interior Minister Hamed Bakayoko.

The US and former colonial master France offered to help the Ivorian government find the perpetrators, with French President Francois Hollande condemning the 'cowardly attack'.

The US-based SITE Intelligence Group said Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), the terror group's North African affiliate, had claimed responsibility for the attack.

Sunday's attack also bore grim similarities to the Islamist gun and grenade assault on a Tunisian beach resort last June, which left 38 foreign holidaymakers dead.

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