Italy’s ambassador to the Democratic Republic of the Congo and his bodyguard and driver were killed on Monday in an attack on a United Nations convoy in the east of the country, Italy’s foreign ministry and local authorities said.
The convoy was attacked at about 10.15am (8.15am Irish time) in an attempted kidnap near the town of Kanyamahoro, about 25km north of the regional capital Goma, said a spokesman for the Virunga National Park.
The deaths of the ambassador, Luca Attanasio (43), Italian military policeman Vittorio Iacovacci (30) and their Congolese driver, whose name has not been released, were confirmed by the Italian government in a statement.
The governor of North Kivu province, Carly Nzanzu Kasivita, said the assailants stopped the convoy by firing warning shots. They killed the driver and were leading the others into the forest when park rangers opened fire. The attackers killed the bodyguard and the ambassador also died, Mr Nzanzu said.
Virunga spokesman Oliver Mukisya said there were no indications yet of who was behind the attack, nor was there any immediate claim of responsibility.
Photographs shared on social media showed Mr Attanasio lying in the arms of a man in the back of a park authority jeep and the broken window of a World Food Programme (WFP) vehicle. Reuters has not verified the images.
“It was with great shock and immense sorrow that I learned of the death today of our ambassador to the Democratic Republic of Congo and of a Carabinieri policeman,” Italian foreign minister Luigi Di Maio said in a statement.
“The circumstances of this brutal attack are still unclear and no effort will be spared to shed light on what happened.”
According to the ministry website, Mr Attanasio had been Italy’s head of mission in Kinshasa since 2017 and was made ambassador in 2019. He was married and had three young daughters, according to his Facebook page.
“He was an enthusiastic young diplomat with a great sensitivity to social problems,” said Mauro Garofolo at the Sant’Egidio charity based in Rome. “He closely followed our work such as our programme to help HIV/Aids sufferers.”
Virunga, which sits on the forest-cloaked volcanoes of central Africa and is home to more than half the world’s mountain gorillas, attracts thousands of tourists each year.
Monday’s attack was in the same village where two British tourists were briefly kidnapped in 2018, leading the park to close to tourists for nine months.– Reuters