Italy’s ambassador to the Democratic Republic of Congo has been killed in an attack on a United Nations convoy near the eastern Congolese city of Goma.
The U.N. World Food Program says at least two other people were killed and several more injured in the attack Monday that killed Italian ambassador Luca Attanasio.
A U.N. spokesman told VOA the other two fatalities were an Italian national and a Congolese WFP driver. The spokesman says the attack targeted two WFP vehicles traveling about 25 kilometers northeast of Goma.
No one has claimed responsibility for the attack.
A WFP statement said the delegation was traveling from Goma to visit a WFP school feeding program in Rutshuru when the incident took place. It noted that the attack “occurred on a road that had previously been cleared for travel without security escorts.”
Reuters, citing the Virunga National Park, reports the convoy was attacked near the town of Kanyamahoro as part of a kidnap attempt.
A spokesperson for U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the U.N. chief condemned the attack and offered condolences to the families of those killed.
“The secretary-general calls on the Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo to investigate swiftly this heinous targeting of a United Nations joint field mission and to bring the perpetrators to justice,” Stephane Dujarric said in a statement Monday.
He told reporters several rebel groups operate in the area, and it is unclear who the perpetrators were.
Italy’s Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio issued a statement expressing his “great dismay and immense sorrow” over the deaths of his compatriots.
“The circumstances of this brutal attack are not yet known and no effort will be spared to shed light on what happened,” Di Maio said.
Monday afternoon, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken called Di Maio to express his condolences “for the tragic loss of Ambassador Luca Attanasio and others, who worked to advance democracy, human rights, peace, and opportunity in the DRC.”
Blinken and Di Maio also discussed other shared priorities, including support for a global coalition to defeat Islamic State, and the future of Libya.
U.S. Ambassador to the DRC Mike Hammer tweeted his condolences.
“I am shocked & heartbroken by the killing of my good friend & colleague Ambassador Luca Attanasio,” he wrote. “My deepest condolences to his wife, family & the Italian Embassy team as well as the relatives of those lost in this horrific attack. May Luca’s memory be a blessing. RIP amico mío.”
Samantha Power, former U.S. ambassador to the U.N. and President Joe Biden’s nominee to lead the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), said on Twitter that Attanasio’s death serves as a “reminder of the risks taken everyday by diplomats and humanitarians.”
Congo’s mineral-rich east has been a battleground for numerous armed groups for more than two decades, since militants involved in Rwanda’s 1994 genocide fled across the porous border. U.N. peacekeepers have attempted to restore peace in the region for more than a decade.
The most active group currently appears to be the Allied Democratic Forces, a violent Ugandan rebel group that seeks to establish Sharia law. The group appears to have ramped up its attacks in recent months, capturing villages, killing civilians, recruiting child soldiers and sparring with the Congolese army.
The infrastructure-poor area has also, in the past three years, seen an outbreak of Ebola, the largest in the nation’s history.