KINSHASA, Congo – The Italian ambassador to the Congo, an Italian Carabinieri police officer and their Congolese driver were killed Monday when armed men attacked a United States convoy attempting to attend a school in eastern Congo, the Italian Foreign Ministry and residents said .
The ambush occurred when the convoy was traveling from Goma, the eastern regional capital of the Congo, to a World Food Program school project in Rutshuru, the US agency said.
The WFP said the attack took place on a road previously cleared for travel without a security escort and it has obtained more information from local officials about the attack. Countless rebel groups live in Eastern Congo, all fighting for control of the mineral-rich Central African nation the size of Western Europe.
Luca Attanasio, Italy’s ambassador to the country since 2017, the Carabinieri officer Vittorio Iacovacci and his driver were killed, said the foreign minister. Other members of the convoy were injured and rushed to hospital, WFP said.
The attack, a few miles north of Goma, took place right next to Virunga National Park. North Kivu governor Carly Nzanzu Kasivita said the United States vehicles were hijacked by the attackers and taken into the bush. The Congolese army and the park rangers of Virunga National Park came to help the attacked, he said.
“There was an exchange of fire. The attackers shot at the bodyguard and the ambassador, ”said the governor, adding that the ambassador later died of his wounds.
Attanasio, a 43-year-old professional diplomat, left a wife and three young children.
The attack occurred in the same area where two British people were abducted by unidentified armed men in 2018, said Mambo Kaway, head of a local civil society group.
“The situation is very tense,” he added.
More than 2,000 civilians were killed in violence by armed groups in eastern Congo last year, whose brutal attacks also displaced more than 5.2 million people in one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises.
Marie Tumba Nzenza, Foreign Minister of the Congo, expressed her condolences and promised the Italian government that the Congolese government would do everything possible to find the perpetrators of the killings.
Italian President Sergio Mattarella and Prime Minister Mario Draghi also expressed condolences to the families of the victims.
“The circumstances of this brutal attack are still unclear and no efforts are spared to shed light on what happened,” said Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio.
Di Maio flew from Brussels to Rome to meet with Draghi and brief the Italian legislature about the attack. The Rome Public Prosecutor’s Office routinely investigates Italians who are victims of crime abroad.
A special Carabinieri investigation unit was on its way to Kinshasha and should arrive on Tuesday, reported the Italian state television.
After his diplomatic work in Switzerland, Morocco and Nigeria, Attanasio was assigned to the Italian embassy in Kinshasa in September 2017.
Last October he was awarded the Nassiriya International Peace Prize at a ceremony in a church in southern Italy. Attanasio was quoted as saying that he “has contributed to the realization of important humanitarian projects and has distinguished himself with altruism, commitment and a spirit of service to people in trouble,” reported the newspaper La Repubblica.
Attanasio quoted: “Everything we take for granted in Italy is not in the Congo, where unfortunately there are so many problems to be solved.”
Attanasio described the ambassador’s role as “above all to be close to the Italians, but also to contribute to the achievement of peace”. Around 1,000 Italians live in the Congo.
The Congo suffered from one of the most brutal colonial rule in the world before experiencing decades of corrupt dictatorships. Successive civil wars later attracted a number of neighboring countries. In January 2019, following the election of President Felix Tshisekedi, the Congo saw its first peaceful democratic transfer of power since independence in 1960.
The United States Peace Mission has worked to reduce its presence of more than 17,000 soldiers in the country and to delegate its security work to the Congolese authorities.