An Italian Carabinieri unit is expected in Congo on Tuesday to investigate the murder of the Italian ambassador to Congo, a Carabinieri officer and their driver in the country’s troubled east.
Congolese authorities and members of the UN mission in Congo are also expected in Goma, in eastern Congo, to investigate the killings.
Luca Attanasio, the Congolese ambassador since 2017, Carabinieri officer Vittorio Iacovacci and their driver Moustapha Milambo were killed in an ambush on Monday as their world food program convoy traveled from Goma, the eastern regional capital of Congo, to visit a WFP school project in Rutshuru, said UN Office.
The Congolese Interior Ministry said four others in the convoy were abducted, but one of those abducted has since been found by the Congolese army.
The bodies of the ambassador and the officer are on their way back to Italy on a plane chartered by the Italian government, according to North Kivu Governor Carly Nzanzu Kasivita.
“Investigations are underway to find the perpetrators of this heinous crime,” the governor said.
The Congolese government has blamed the assassination of the democratic forces for the liberation of Rwanda, the Rwandan Hutu rebel group known as the FDLR.
However, the rebel group denied responsibility for the attack on Tuesday.
“The FDLR declares that there is nothing implicating it in the attack that resulted in the death of the Italian ambassador and asks the Congolese authorities and MONUSCO to do everything they can to shed light on those responsible for this invalid murder,” rebel spokesman Cure Ngoma said in a statement.
The rebel group noted that the attack took place in the area “three antennas” near Goma and the border with Rwanda and near the military positions of Congolese and Rwanda. It blamed the killings on these forces.
Eastern Congo is home to countless rebel groups, all vying for control of parts of the mineral-rich, loosely governed Central African nation as large as Western Europe.
More than 120 armed groups are active in eastern Congo that have been insecure for more than 25 years, according to Kivu Security Tracker, a joint project between Human Rights Watch and the Congo Research Institute to monitor armed violence in eastern Congo.
Within the specific area of the attack, several armed groups are active, including the FDLR, the Nyatura militia and remnants of the former M23 rebels.
It is unusual for a top diplomat to be targeted in eastern Congo, but the attacks have increased, says Pierre Boisselet, coordinator of Kivu Security Tracker.
Attacks on humanitarian workers and kidnappings of humanitarian workers have increased. “Last year, we recorded 12 of these incidents in northern and southern Kivu, but only one ended in death,” he said.
“Usually, violence by armed groups is directed at civilians,” or civilians are injured in collisions between armed groups and the army.
The attack, about 25 kilometers north of Goma, was right next to Virunga National Park.
UN vehicles were hijacked by the attackers and brought into the bush. The Congolese army and the park rangers of Virunga National Park responded to the attack and there was an exchange of fire, according to North Kivu Gov. Carly Nzanzu Kasivita.
Attanasio was shot in the abdomen and then transported to the UN mission in Congo Hospital, where he died of his wounds, according to the Congolese Interior Ministry. The driver and the police died on the spot.
The WFP said the attack occurred on a road that had previously been cleared for travel without a security follow-up, and it sought more information from local officials about the attack.
The Congolese Ministry of the Interior said that the provincial authorities in northern Kivu were not aware of the presence of the Italian ambassador and therefore did not provide him with security measures. The UN peacekeeping chief Jean-Pierre Lacroix said that the decision on whether roads are safe is normally made by the UN security authorities in the country.
He said he had no details on “the exact course of events” and that “the investigation will hopefully provide clarity.”
Italy’s foreign ministry said on Tuesday it would spare no effort to find out exactly what happened in the tragic attack.
In Rome, Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio said he would soon inform Parliament of the attack and warned of premature reconstructions of what happened. Rome prosecutors have launched an investigation into the killing of an Italian citizen abroad.
Lawmakers observed a moment of silence in the lower house, and flags were flown at half-staff at government buildings as tributes poured in for the two men. In an obituary on the front page with the leading Corriere della Sera, the Secretary General of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Elisabetta Belloni, said that Attanasio firmly believed that through multilateral diplomacy he could help make the world a better place.
The attack occurred in the same area where two Britons were kidnapped by unidentified armed men in 2018, although they were released days later.
Eastern Congo is still one of the most insecure parts of the expansive country. More than 2,000 civilians were killed last year in eastern Congo provinces by armed rebel groups, according to UN reports last week.
The UN peacekeeping mission has worked to reduce its more than 17,000 troops’ presence in the country and handed over its security work to the Congolese authorities.