Ivory Coast arrests two soldiers for suspected links to al Qaeda

ABIDJAN (Reuters) - Two soldiers have been arrested in Ivory Coast accused of failing to denounce suspected members of an al Qaeda cell that killed 19 people in a March attack on a beach resort town, military officials said on Thursday. The raid on Grand Bassam, 40 km (25 miles) from the commercial capital, Abidjan, by al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), the jihadist group's North African affiliate, was the furthest yet from its traditional desert base. Authorities in Ivory Coast and neighboring Mali have arrested a number of suspects since the attack. Ivory Coast's military prosecutor Colonel Ange Kessi said the soldiers were not accused of participating directly in the Grand Bassam plot. "The two soldiers knew certain members of the unit that attacked the beach in Grand Bassam and did not signal that to their hierarchy, which is a serious offense under the military code of justice," he said. They are due to stand trial at the end of August, Kessi added. The attack in Grand Bassam, during which gunmen shot swimmers and sunbathers before storming into several hotels, also harmed French-speaking West Africa's largest economy, a rising star on the continent. 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 Joe Bavier; Editing by Gareth Jones)