Italy’s ambassador to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) was killed on Monday along with his bodyguard and a UN World Food Programme driver when their convoy was ambushed in the east of the country.
The attackers stopped the UN convoy and were leading captured passengers away into the forest when a patrol of park rangers opened fire, the governor of North Kivu province, Carly Nzanzu Kasivita, told Reuters.
The ambassador, Luca Attanasio, 43, was hit in the stomach. Photos shared on social media showed him lying bleeding in the arms of a man in a park authority jeep. He died several hours later in the UN hospital in the regional capital Goma.
“The circumstances of this brutal attack are still unclear, and no effort will be spared to shed light on what happened,” Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio said in a statement.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility. Congo’s interior ministry blamed a Hutu militia called the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), one of dozens of armed groups operating in and around Virunga National Park, which lies along Congo’s borders with Rwanda and Uganda.
The FDLR kidnapped two British tourists in the same area in May 2018, leading the park to close to tourists for nine months.
“I promise the Italian government that my country’s government will do everything to discover who is behind this awful murder,” Congo’s foreign minister Marie Ntumba Nzeza said.
The UN World Food Programme (WFP) said the delegation was on its way to visit a school feeding programme and the road had been okayed for travel without a security escort.
Attanasio had been ambassador to Congo’s capital Kinshasa since 2019. He was married and had three young daughters.
The driver, Milambo, leaves behind four children. Jean-Mobert Senga, a Congolese rights activist said. “He joins thousands of Congolese who have lost their lives in this region, and whose tragedies rarely make the headlines and comments from politicians in Kinshasa.”
According to the BBC, the attack may have been aimed at kidnapping the ambassador for ransom.