Italy’s ambassador to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Luca Attanasio, and a Carabiniere, Vittorio Iacovacci, were killed in an attack on a World Food Programme (WFP) convoy travelling from Goma to Bukavu in the African country on Monday, well-informed sources told ANSA.
Attanasio, 43, from Limbiate near Monza, died in hospital of gunshot wounds to the abdomen after arriving in hospital in critical condition, a high-ranking diplomat told AFP in Kinshasa.
The diplomat, who had spoken of setting an example in a dangerous cause, is survived by his mother, wife and three young daughters.
Iacovacci, who was part of the ambassador’s security detail, was 30 and from Sonnino near Latin south of Rome. He had been serving at the Italian embassy in the DRC since September.
Iacovacci was stationed with the 13th Carabinieri regiment in Gorizia, In the past, he had served with the crack Folgore regiment.
The envoy’s car was part of a WFP convoy including the MONUSCO UN peacekeeping mission EU delegation chief, sources said.
It was attacked with light weapons by a terrorist commando, local sources said.
The attack, in which a Congolese WFP driver was also killed, may have been an attempted kidnapping, rangers at Virunga National Park told various media outlets including The Jerusalem Post.
The attack took place at around 10 o’clock local (09:00 Italian time), near the town of Kanyamahoro.
Several armed groups operate in the area of the Virunga Mountains, between Congo, Rwanda and Uganda, and often target the rangers in the park, which is famous for its mountain gorillas.
The Italian foreign ministry confirmed the killings of Attanasio and Iacovacci with “deep grief”.
Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio voiced “immense grief” after learning of what happened while he was at an EU foreign ministers’ meeting in Brussels.
He voiced Italy’s grief at the foreign ministers council meeting, before returning from Brussels to Rome.
He said Italy would make every effort to shed light on the incident.
He described Attanasio and Iacovacci as “two servants of the State who have been torn (from life) with violence while doing their duty.
“Today Italy mourns the loss of two of its sons and embraces their families, friends and colleagues at the foreign ministry and in the Carabinieri”, he said, adding that he would report to parliament as soon as possible.
Di Maio added that Italian officials were already at work to bring back the two men’s bodies to Italy.
President Sergio Mattarella said the whole of Italy was “in mourning” for the deaths of two brave “servants of he State”.
The Italian premier’s office said Premier Mario Draghi voiced the government’s deep grief for Attanasio and Iacovacci’s tragic deaths and they embraced the two men’s relatives, and colleagues at the foreign ministry and in the Carabinieri.
Draghi is following developments with the utmost attention, the note added.
He will meet Di Maio later on Monday.
The mayor of Sonnino announced a day of mourning for the slain Carabiniere.
Defence Minister Lorenzo Guerini condemned the “cowardly and barbaric attack”.
European Commission spokesperson Eri Mamer said the news of the attack was “extremely concerning, and we are following (the case) closely. The high representative (for foreign affairs, Josep Borrell), has conveyed his condolences to Italy. The (Italian) foreign minister is sharing information with his EU colleagues”.
Borrell said “we expressed all our sympathies to Minister Luigi Di Maio and Italy for the deaths of three people in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, including Italian ambassador Luca Attanasio. We remain determined to continue to fight against all violence in the region”.
DRC Foreign Minister Marie Tumba Nzeza said “I promise the Italian government that my country’s executive will take all necessary (action) to find who is behind this ignoble crime”, according to the Actualite.cd. website.
She said “it is with grief and great sadness that we learned of the death of the young Italian ambassador to the DRC in a WFP convoy”.
The United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo or MONUSCO, an acronym based on its French name, was established by the United Nations Security Council to monitor the peace process of the Second Congo War, though much of its focus subsequently turned to the Ituri conflict, the Kivu conflict and the Dongo conflict.
The area has been racked by armed conflict for years.
In its most recent report, Italian intelligence said there were over 100 armed rebel groups in the area and jihadism was growing.
“There is a picture of pronounced fragility in the country,” it said.
“The competition to exploit riches (raw materials and minerals) characterizes the Democratic Republic of Congo, which is still suffering from tensions in its eastern provinces,” the report said.
Receiving the Nassiriya For Peace prize from a local association at Camerota near Salerno last October, Attanasio said “the ambassador has a sometimes dangerous mission, but we all have a duty to set an example.” He said “in Congo words like peace, health, and education are a privilege for a very few, and today the Democratic Republic of the Congo is thirsty for peace, after three wars in two decades.
“Our role, the embassy’s role, is to be close to the Italians, a thousand in all, for the most part missionaries and a few lay people, who all live together sharing the destiny of the Congolese inhabitants.
“I and my wife live in Congo with our whole family, three little children. Some people are surprised at this choice, above all for the risks that it brings, but it is our duty to set an example”.
There were also a few people injured in Monday’s attack, the World Food Programme said.
The convoy had been on its way from Goma to Rutshuru to inspect a WFP program to distribute food in schools, it said.
The road had previously been checked and pronounced safe to be used without security escorts, the WFP said.
The deputy representative of the UN secretary-general in the DRC, David McLachlan-Karr, said two vehicles had been targeted in the attack, both belonging to the WFP. He said the attack took place northeast of Goma.
Attanasio is the second EU ambassador to be killed in the DRC after French envoy Philippe Bernard lost his life in armed clashes in Kinshasa in an uprising of troops against dictator Mobutu Sese Seke in 1993, AFP reported. (ANSA).