The UN convoy was attacked near Democratic Republic of Congo’s Kanyamahoro town in a kidnapping attempt.

A general view of the locked entrance to the Level III Indian Field Hospital, where the dead body of Italian Ambassador Luca Attanasio lies, in Goma, eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo on February 22, 2021.
A general view of the locked entrance to the Level III Indian Field Hospital, where the dead body of Italian Ambassador Luca Attanasio lies, in Goma, eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo on February 22, 2021. (Reuters)

Italy's ambassador to the Democratic Republic of Congo, his bodyguard and a driver from the World Food Programme have been killed in an attack on their convoy in the east of the country, Italy and the United Nations said.

The convoy was attacked at about 0815 GMT (1015 AM) on Monday in an attempted kidnap near the town of Kanyamahoro, about 25 km (15 miles) north of the regional capital Goma, a spokesman for the Virunga National Park said.

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 driver was working for the UN World Food Programme, the WFP said in a statement, adding that a number of other passengers were injured.

Troubled region 

Dozens of armed groups operate in and around Virunga, which lies along Congo's borders with Rwanda and Uganda. 

Park rangers have been repeatedly attacked and six were killed in an ambush last month.

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, 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.

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An undated black and white photo handout on February 22, 2021 by the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs shows Italy's ambassador to the Democratic Republic of Congo, Luca Attanasio.
An undated black and white photo handout on February 22, 2021 by the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs shows Italy's ambassador to the Democratic Republic of Congo, Luca Attanasio. (AFP)

'A cowardly attack'

President Sergio Mattarella condemned the "cowardly attack" while Prime Minister Mario Draghi offered his "deepest condolences".

"The Italian republic is in mourning for these servants of the state who lost their lives," Mattarella said in a statement, offering "my deepest sympathy and solidarity" with the families of Luca Attanasio and those of a policeman, Vittorio Iacovacci, and a driver who died.

"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."

Di Maio was in Brussels for a European Union meeting when he heard the news and cut short his visit to head back to Italy.

Turkey condemns 'heinous attack'

Turkish foreign minister offered his condolences and expressed shock. 

In a tweet, Mevlut Cavusoglu tagged his Italian counterpart Luigi Di Maio and wrote: "Deeply shocked and saddened by the demise of Ambassador Luca Attanasio of #Italy and a Carabinieri officer in a horrific attack in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Heartfelt condolences to friendly Italy, bereaved families, and the Italian nation."

Separately, a Turkish Foreign Ministery statement said: "We strongly condemn this heinous attack. We share the grief of friendly people and the Government of Italy. We extend our sincere condolences to the families and relatives of those who lost their lives."

'Enthusiastic young diplomat'

According to the ministry website, 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.

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Source: Reuters