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Ghana, Togo boost security after attack warning

Security has been beefed up in Accra and Lome following a leaked intelligence report that indicated Islamist militants were likely to launch their next attacks in Ghana and Togo.



In Ghana's capital, there has been an increased visible police presence in public places such as malls and beaches, while officers in plain clothes are also patrolling.

Upmarket hotels such as the five-star Kempinski, Moevenpick and La Palm Royal Beach have likewise introduced measures such as thorough searches of vehicles and extra security guards.

Nearly 200km east in Lome, guests at places such as the Sarakawa hotel and the Ibis are subject to checks while the government has urged the use of surveillance cameras.

The precautions have been put in place after a leaked report from Ghana's National Security Council Secretariat warned of a possible attack similar to those recently in Burkina Faso and Ivory Coast.

The alert said Ghana and Togo were "the next targets" and called for greater vigilance at borders and screening for visitors from "high risk" countries.

For the attack on the Grand-Bassam resort in Ivory Coast in March, heavily armed gunmen entered from Mali in a Niger-registered 4x4 and hid their weapons in the petrol tank. Nineteen people were killed.

Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) claimed responsibility, as well for a similar strike in the Burkinabe capital, Ouagadougou, in January that left 30 dead.

Co-operation

Ghana's President John Dramani Mahama on April 15 said no country in West Africa was immune from attack and called for the public to be alert.

Police said "adequate measures" have since been put in place "to forestall any terrorist attacks or disturbances".

"All the requisite operational strategies, including intelligence gathering and tactical deployment of personnel have been unfolded to nip any breach of the peace in the bud," it added.

"In view of this, the police is seeking the co-operation of the general public in the fight against the scourge of terrorism and other violent crimes."

As such, people in both countries are having to get used to more frequent vehicle checks, bag and body searches as well as identity checks.

"Those in charge of private security guard companies should know we're working together," Togo's security minister Colonel Yark Damehame has said.

"These are our orders," said one police officer at the main entrance of the Sarakawa hotel on Lome's waterfront. "We're searching all the vehicles that enter the hotel."

Climate of fear

Upmarket hotels and venues popular with Westerners and the wealthy have increasingly become targets for Islamist groups since the Mumbai attacks in November 2008.

Then, 10 gunmen stormed three luxury hotels, a popular tourist restaurant, a Jewish cultural centre, and a railway station in India's commercial capital, killing 166 in a siege that lasted nearly three days.

In 2013, Shabaab fighters attacked the Westgate mall in Kenya's capital, Nairobi. At least 67 were killed.

The Grand-Bassam attack was similar to one on a beach in Sousse, Tunisia, in June last year that killed 38; AQIM also killed 20 at the Radisson Blu hotel in Bamako, Mali.

At the West Hills Mall in Accra, senior high school student Matilda Nimako said she was now apprehensive about coming to the venue.

"I just want to quickly grab food here and leave," she told AFP. "If it wasn't for all this terror thing I would have eaten here.

"Even my friend said I should wait for her but I won't wait here. I will cross over to the other side of the street to wait."

Some businesses, too, say the climate of fear is affecting trade.

"I think the news about the terror attacks is not helping us," said Kwame Anim, who runs a small cosmetics stall inside the Accra Mall.

Anim said he had seen his takings plummet since the report.

"People are just afraid to come to the mall," he said.
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