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These People Are Refusing To Be Scared After A Terror Attack

As jihadis expand reach by gunning after soft targets in West Africa, ordinary people are responding by refusing to be cowed.

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Ivory Coast was shocked on Sunday by the country's first ever jihadi attack, which left 22 dead after gunmen stormed the sleepy beachside town of Grand Bassam. But far from frightening most, the attack has triggered a mood of defiance and solidarity.

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#Memepaspeur — or “Not Scared One Bit” — is being used as a slogan to propel the country back to its feet.

"To our victims, rest in peace. To our brothers, together we will always be stronger because whatever happens, we are not scared one bit," posted Sacha Light, the artist behind a drawing of cheering boys decked in the national colors, which is being widely shared on social media. "Our beaches will remain places of joy...stronger than ever, we will radiate the love, joie de vivre and pride which makes us unique."

Most of the deaths occurred at the Etoile de Sud hotel, where people were tucking into lunches of grilled seafood the town is famous for. The youngest victim was 16-years-old, the oldest 78.

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The attack, claimed by Al-Qaeda's north African branch, is the latest in a string of soft targets besieged as the sect attempts to remain in the limelight. Ivorians are countering back by posting images of everyday life in Bassam in all its splendor.

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The assault also comes as rival militants ISIS have spread to Libya, and began using it as a base to lure recruits from West Africa, ramping up competition between the two sects. In striking Ivory Coast’s palm-lined beaches, AQMI are also hoping to show their own reach beyond their traditional bases in the Sahel and Sahara desert.

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Ivory Coast has no history of religious extremism, so the militants are instead attempting to tap into old grievances against France, the ex-colonial power which maintains close links to the current government.

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The brunt of attacks by Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) have been absorbed by neighboring Mali, which headquarters Operation Barkhane, France's counter-insurgency operation across the Sahel. In 2013, French forces stationed in Mali also led a drive against Islamists who ran rampage over large tracts of the Sahel and Sahara.

But Ivory Coast, known for its chic fashion and food, had been considered a safe haven for French expatriates.

AQIM said that it would continue offensives against countries joining in the French-led operations, according to a translated statement on the SITE Intelligence website.

Rather than latching onto simmering resentment against the French, Ivorians have thrown back their fierce pride in their own culture as a response.

It only makes sense, as Ivorians are renowned for — and pride themselves on — their "joie de vivre," and some artists are using humor to skewer religious extremism behind the attacks.

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One caricature depicts the jihadis arriving in heaven only to find Ivorians living it up with the virgins reserved for the militants -- whose interpretation of Islam preaches they will get 72 virgins as a "reward" for suicide martyrdom.

"They think they can attack our way of life," cartoonist Charles Dadié told BuzzFeed News by phone from Abidjan. "But they chose the wrong people -- we refuse to have our joy and humor ripped away from us."

And the recent attack is far from the worse Ivorians have seen. The country is drawing on the resilience that saw it rapidly rise from a decade of civil crisis — which periodically flared into outright conflict — that finally ended in 2011.

5/ One of my fav stories: In the Ivory Coast war, they had a dusk-dawn curfew. Folks would doll up and go clubbing at 6 am, then go to work.

Analysts say that while the country needs to patch up security lapses, the increasing attacks on soft targets by isolated groups of gunmen can never be completely prevented. But people are returning to Bassam, documenting it all on social media.

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Days after the assault, the government defiantly held a cabinet meeting in Grand Bassam. Several thousand people, dressed in white, took part in a solidarity march through the town as well.

Marche contre le terrorisme et pour la mémoire des victimes à #Bassam 😔 #TousUnis #A2CIV

More than 2,000 people attended after three days of national mourning. "Muslims, Christians, young and old - everybody came. To me, it's a sign that says loud and clear, these attacks aren't going to divide us," Ioussof Ouedraogo, director of the town's artisanal centre, told BuzzFeed news by phone.

"We're worried this is going to hit us [financially], but when we saw the support for us, we couldn't help but be happy," Cristian, a manager at the Etoile de Sud hotel who gave only his first name, told BuzzFeed News.

Art boutiques and hotels have already opened their doors, he added.

Once a colonial capital, Grand Bassam is a popular getaway for Ivorians and foreigners alike. On weekends, crowds descend on its evocative crumbling colonial streets to enjoy grilled seafood and beachside music, and browse for arty trinkets.

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Ivorians are also drawing on the elephant, the national symbol of the country.

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"Never scared. Two fingers to the terrorists."

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There have been diss tracks where dancers use popular moves to show they intend how they to dance their way through any troubling times...

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And reminiscences of old time classics which were filmed on Grand Bassam's shores.

Meiway - Apollo 95 #Bassam #MemePasPeur #ViveLaCoteDIvoire #JesusChristEstToujoursRoi https://t.co/lABffGNM94

Gunning after soft targets is a tactic that's unlikely to go away anytime soon. It's long been favored by Al-Shabab jihadis on Africa's eastern coast. But ordinary Ivorians can also take inspiration from their continental cousins.

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After a beach attack by militants earlier this year in Somalia's capital of Mogadishu, residents responded with a similar message of defiance.

A week after the attack, there are plans to once again fill the beaches with a sit in on Sunday.

Célébrons la vie ensemble! #MangerLaVie #MêmePasPeur #JeSuisBassam #RestonsDébout

"We'll be back in Bassam for some good roast chicken in front of a seaside view."

On retournera à Bassam pour manger les bons poulets braisés face à la mer #MonPaysEstFort #MemePasPeur 🇨🇮

These children sum it up pretty succinctly: "You've made us even stronger."

Vous nous avez donné encore plus de force ! #JesuisBassam #TousUnis #CI225 #memmepaspeur

Monica Mark is the West Africa Correspondent for BuzzFeed News and is based in Dakar, Senegal.

Contact Monica Mark at monica.mark@buzzfeed.com.

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