Suspected al Qaeda terrorists shot dead a five-year-old boy who fell to his knees and prayed for his life during a terror attack on a tourist resort in Ivory Coast, eyewitnesses have said.

At least four men armed with AK47s and hand grenades killed 16 people, including four Europeans, in the historic town of Grand Bassam before they were gunned down in a shootout with government troops.

People carry the body of a victim following after gunmen went on a shooting rampage in the Ivory Coast resort of Grand-Bassam. Photo / Getty
People carry the body of a victim following after gunmen went on a shooting rampage in the Ivory Coast resort of Grand-Bassam. Photo / Getty

One survivor who saw the attack unfold said: 'They killed a child despite him kneeling down and begging. They shot a woman in the chest. They've killed innocent people.'

Another witness, Marcel Guy, said a man with a long beard spoke to two children in Arabic and spared the life of the one who was able to recite an Islamic prayer.

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'The Christian boy was shot and killed right in front of my eyes,' Guy said.

Of the 16 people who were gunned down in the resort popular with Westerners, 14 were civilians and two were special forces soldiers, Ivory Coast's President Alassane Ouattara said today.

He said a total of six attackers were later killed by soldiers, adding: 'I am very proud of our security forces who reacted so fast... The toll could've been much heavier.'

Ivory Coast's soldier carries a machine gun as he walks on the beach resort of Grand-Bassam. Photo / Getty
Ivory Coast's soldier carries a machine gun as he walks on the beach resort of Grand-Bassam. Photo / Getty

The heavily armed, balaclava clad shooters yelled 'Allah Akbar' before they opened fired on guests at the L'Etoile du Sud [Southern Star] hotel which was full of expats at the time.

Graphic images showed several dead bodies, some of whom are thought to be French tourists, scattered across the beach near the hotel.

Security forces and members of the Ivorian Red Cross were pictured dragging the dead bodies from the blood stained sand earlier today.

Jacques Able, the owner of L'Etoile du Sud, confirmed at least one person was killed in his hotel.

Footage from a different hotel's balcony showed people running from their lives as the shooters tried to gun down other unarmed holidaymakers.

The country's government said six armed men have been 'neutralized' following attacks on three different hotels.

Terror group Al Qaeda in the Maghreb has claimed responsibility for the attack through one of their social media accounts, but this has not been independently verified.

Several French nationals may have been killed in the deadly attack, with witnesses describing how the gunmen arrived on the beach via a boat.

Josiane Sekongo, 25, who lives across from one of the town's many beachfront hotels, described the shocking moment the attack took place.

She ran outside after hearing gun fire and saw people sprinting away from the beach to hide in their homes, moments before the security forces arrived.

'I saw seven dead that I filmed. There were four attackers. I was swimming when it started and I ran away,' said Dramane Kima a local who filmed the bodies on Bassam's shore.

He also took photos of grenades and ammunition thought to have been left behind by the attackers.

A spokeswoman for the Foreign Office said officials were 'urgently' trying to establish whether any British nationals were harmed at the resort, a popular site for expats.

The terrorists reportedly were said to be targeting a US delegation led by Assistant Secretary of Commerce Marcus Jadotte, Fox News reported.

The American embassy in the capital Abidjan, which was monitoring the situation closely today, said there was no evidence that US citizens were being targeted, nor were there any reports of them being harmed.

Mr Jadotte was visiting Ivory Coast with a group of Americans which included college recruiters from the University of Florida. They had not arrived at L'Etoile du Sud when the attack took place.

The attack was the third time in recent months that a West African tourist hotspot has been besieged by gunmen.

Dozens were killed during a siege of a Malian hotel in November, followed by an assault on a hotel and cafe in Burkina Faso in January.

Analysts have warned for months that Ivory Coast, which shares a border with both those countries, could be a potential target by jihadists as well.

'I have always said that Abidjan [Ivory Coast] and Dakar [Senegal] are the next targets for jihadist groups because these two countries represent windows of France in Africa,' said terrorism expert Lemine Ould Salem.

He said the attackers could be from the ISIS-affiliated Boko Haram terror group that has killed thousands across Africa over several years.

Home to some 80,000 people, Grand-Bassam holds UNESCO World Heritage status thanks to its elegant colonial-era facades. The town has several hotels frequented by expats.

UNESCO describes Grand-Bassam as a late 19th and early 20th century colonial town that 'bears witness to the complex social relations between Europeans and Africans, and to the subsequent independence movement'.

'As a vibrant centre of the territory of French trading posts in the Gulf of Guinea, which preceded modern Cote d'Ivoire, it attracted populations from all parts of Africa, Europe and the Mediterranean Levant,' the UN cultural agency says on its website.