Ivory Coast jails two soldiers for 10 years for al Qaeda ties

August 5, 2016 8:20 AM EDT

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ABIDJAN (Reuters) - Two soldiers in Ivory Coast have been jailed for 10 years for associating with, and failing to denounce, suspected members of an al Qaeda cell which killed 19 people at a beach resort town in March, the military prosecutor said.

Gunmen shot swimmers and sunbathers before storming into several hotels in Grand Bassam, 40 km (25 miles) from the commercial capital, Abidjan, on March 13. The attack was claimed by al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), the Islamist group's North African branch.

Authorities in Ivory Coast and neighboring Mali have arrested a number of suspects since the raid.

The two soldiers, arrested in July and sentenced late on Thursday, knew members of the unit that carried out the attack and did not inform their superiors, said Colonel Ange Kessi.

Kessi said at the time of the arrests that the soldiers were not accused of participating directly in the Grand Bassam plot.

"(The soldiers) were sentenced for associating with criminals and violating orders. We recommended 10 years in prison, which the court confirmed," Kessi said.

AQIM has killed dozens of people in a series of attacks against high-profile civilian targets in Mali, Burkina Faso and Ivory Coast since late last year. It says they are intended as revenge for a 2013 French-led intervention against Islamist groups in Mali.

(Reporting by Ange Aboa; Writing by Nellie Peyton; Editing by Edward McAllister and Richard Balmforth)

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