A deadly attack on a popular Ivory Coast beach resort Sunday that killed at least 16 most likely targeted a U.S. delegation led by the assistant commerce secretary, who was visiting the country, a diplomatic source in the region told Fox News.
There was no indication any Americans had been killed or wounded in the attack, according to the source.
Assistant Secretary of Commerce Marcus Jadotte was leading a group of Americans in Grand-Bassam, including college recruiters from the University of Florida. U.S. embassy officials from the capital city of Abidjan were also included in the group, according to the source.
The delegation was supposed to arrive at the scene of the attack, Etoile du Sud, a hotel popular with Westerners. The delegation had not yet made it to the hotel when the attack occurred.
A jihadist group called Ansar Dine, or "defenders of the faith," which is linked to Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, was suspected of the attack, the source said. Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb later claimed responsibility for the attack, according to a Jihad monitoring website cited by the Associated Press.
The US Embassy in Ivory Coast had instructed all Americans to "shelter in place" following the attack.
The U.S. ambassador to the Ivory Coast was not in the country at the time of the attack, having left to attend a conference in Washington led by Secretary of State John Kerry.
But the deadly attack did leave 14 civilians and two special forces soldiers dead, as well as all six attackers, President Alassane Ouattara said, according to Reuters.
The attackers, who were "heavily armed and wearing balaclavas, fired at guests at the Etoile du Sud, a large hotel which was full of expats in the current heatwave," a witness told AFP.
Marcel Guy said he saw at least four gunmen with Kalashnikov rifles on the beach. He said one approached two children, and spoke in Arabic. One child knelt and prayed, the other child was shot dead.
"I was swimming when it started and I ran away," said Dramane Kima, who showed video of the carnage to Reuters. He also took pictures of grenades and ammunition clips he believed were left behind by the gunmen.
Jacques Able, who identified himself as the owner of Etoile du Sud said one person had been killed at the hotel.
A receptionist at Etoile du Sud hotel said the attacks happened on the beach.
"We don't know where they came from, and we don't know where they've gone," he said of the gunmen.
Security forces and members of the Ivorian Red Cross were clearing the bodies.
Josiane Sekongo, who lives across from one of the town's many beachfront hotels, said she ran outside when she heard the gunfire and saw people running away from the beach. Sekongo, 25, said residents were hiding in their homes as security forces responded.
At least one French person died in the attack, a French Foreign Ministry spokesperson told Reuters.
French President Francois Hollande denounced the "cowardly attack."
"France will bring its logistical support and intelligence to Ivory Coast to find the attackers," Hollande said in a statement viewed by Reuters. "[France] will pursue and intensify its cooperation with its partners in the fight against terrorism."
The attack in Ivory Coast Sunday is the third West African attack by Islamic militants against popular establishments frequented by Westerners since November.
In November, an attack on the Radisson Blu hotel in Mali’s capital city of Bamako left 20 dead. A U.S. special forces soldier assisted in evacuating the wounded.
In January, an attack in Burkina Faso's capital city killed 30 at a popular hotel including an American missionary, Mike Riddering, swho was sitting at a cafe across the street from the hotel.
Fox News' Lucas Tomlinson and The Associated Press contributed to this report.