Italy – Luca Attanasio died of his wounds on Monday after a World Food Programme (WFP) convoy came under fire near the eastern city of Goma while he was on a field trip. The Italian government said an Italian policeman, Vittorio Iacovacci, and a driver it did not identify also died
DRC’s interior ministry blamed the killings on “members of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda [FDLR]”, a Rwandan Hutu rebel group that has plagued the region for more than a quarter of a century.
But the FDLR rejected the allegation in a statement received by AFP news agency on Tuesday.
It said the ambassador’s convoy was attacked near the Rwandan border, “not far from a position of the FARDC [DRC’s armed forces] and Rwandan soldiers”.
“The responsibility for this despicable killing is to be found in the ranks of these two armies and their sponsors who have forged an unnatural alliance to perpetuate the pillaging of eastern DRC,” it said.
The FDLR denied “being involved in the attack” and called on Kinshasa and UN peacekeeping force MONUSCO to “shed light” on the killings “instead of resorting to hasty accusations”.
DRC and Rwanda authorities have not reported the presence of any regular Rwandan troops in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
But an analyst at the Kivu Security Tracker, a US monitor, said: “The FDLR are near the place where the attack took place. It’s in the realm of possibility that the Rwandan rebels are responsible for this attack.”
It is unusual for a top diplomat to be targeted in eastern DRC, but attacks have been rising, Pierre Boisselet, coordinator of the Kivu Security Tracker, said. “Attacks on humanitarians and kidnappings of humanitarian workers have been increasing. Last year we recorded 12 of those incidents in North and South Kivu, but only one ended in a death,” he said
“Usually violence by armed groups targets civilians,” or civilians are hurt amid clashes between armed groups and the army.
The attack, 25km (15 miles) north of Goma, was right next to Virunga National Park.
DRC’s interior ministry said four other people in the convoy were kidnapped, but one person was found by the army.
The UN vehicles were hijacked by the attackers and taken into the bush. The Congolese army and park guards for Virunga National Park responded to the attack and there was an exchange of fire, according to North Kivu Governor Carly Nzanzu Kasivita.
Attanasio was shot in the abdomen and was then transported to the UN Mission in Congo hospital where he died from his wounds, according to the interior ministry. The driver and police officer died at the scene.
The WFP said the attack occurred on a road that had been cleared previously for travel without security escorts, and it was seeking more information from local officials on the attack.
UN peacekeeping chief Jean-Pierre Lacroix said the determination of whether roads are safe is normally made by UN security officials in the country.
He said he had no details on “the exact unfolding of the incident,” and “the investigation will bring, hopefully, clarity to that”.
Attanasio, 43, represented Italy in Kinshasa since 2017, first as head of mission and then as ambassador from October 2019.
Italian President Sergio Mattarella described the ambush as a “cowardly attack.”
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres issued a statement urging the DRC to swiftly investigate a “heinous targeting” of a UN mission.
What do we know about the attack?
Mr Attanasio was a passenger in one of two vehicles travelling about 15km (nine miles) north of Goma when the attack happened on Monday morning.
The vehicles were “ambushed by a group of six attackers, who fired warning shots before taking all the passengers into the Virunga National Park”, the governor of North Kivu province, Carly Nzanzu, told the BBC.
“That’s when a patrol of Virunga National Park rangers intervened and managed to free four people,” he said.
“Unfortunately, before they ran away, the assailants shot the ambassador and his bodyguard, and they killed the Congolese driver at the start of the attack,” the governor added.
What has the reaction been?
Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi issued a statement offering his “deepest condolences”, while President Sergio Mattarella condemned the “cowardly attack”.
Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio expressed his “great shock and immense sorrow” at the “brutal” killings.
“Today Italy mourns the loss of two of its sons and embraces their families,” he said, adding: “No effort will be spared to shed light on what happened.”
DR Congo’s Foreign Minister, Marie Tumba Nzeza, said an investigation into the killings was under way.
Mr Attanasio had represented Italy in the DR Congo since 2017. He joined the diplomatic service in 2003 and spent time in Morocco and Nigeria.