A bomb exploded at a Congolese restaurant as patrons gathered on Christmas Day in an eastern town where extremists are known to be active.

Shortly after the bomb went off, heavy gunfire rang out, and panicked crowds began fleeing the town's centre. (Archive photo)
Shortly after the bomb went off, heavy gunfire rang out, and panicked crowds began fleeing the town's centre. (Archive photo) (AP)

At least seven people have been killed from a bomb explosion inside a restaurant in a city in the east of Democratic Republic of Congo.

The mayor of the city Beni, Narcisse Muteba Kashale, announced the explosion on local radio on Saturday.

"There is a bomb that just exploded in the city centre," said Kashale, who is also a police colonel. 

"For safety, I'm asking the population to stay home," he added.

Congolese government spokesman Patrick Muyaya said the blast had been caused by a suicide bomber. There were no immediate claims of responsibility.

"Loss of human life has been reported. The security services have already been deployed and the first measures have been taken," Muyaya said on Twitter.

A Reuters journalist nearby said he heard an explosion around 1800 GMT (7 PM local), just after the afternoon Catholic mass, near the city's main road.

Shortly after the bomb went off, heavy gunfire rang out, and panicked crowds began fleeing the town's centre.

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Ongoing insecurity

The town has long been targeted by rebels from the Allied Democratic Forces, or ADF, a group that traces its origins to neighbouring Uganda. 

But a Daesh affiliate claimed responsibility for two explosions in Beni in June, deepening fears that extremism has taken hold there too.

Those explosions included the first known suicide bombing in eastern Congo, a Ugandan man who blew himself up outside of a bar. 

The Daesh group’s Central Africa Province later said that the suicide bomber was targeting Christians.

The other explosion that day went off inside a Catholic church, wounding two people.

Residents of the town have repeatedly expressed anger over the ongoing insecurity despite an army offensive and the presence of UN peacekeepers in Beni. 

In recent years, the town also has suffered through an Ebola epidemic and has seen several smaller outbreaks of the disease.

READ MORE: ADF militia kills scores in eastern DRC

Source: TRTWorld and agencies