The bodies of Italy’s ambassador to the Democratic Republic of Congo and his bodyguard arrived back in Rome on Tuesday aboard a military aircraft, a day after they were shot dead following an ambush in eastern Congo.
Ambassador Luca Attanasio, 43, and his bodyguard Vittorio Iacovacci, 30, were killed while travelling in a United Nations’ World Food Programme convoy to visit a school feeding project. WFP driver Mustapha Milambo was also killed.
Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi joined bereaved relatives as the plane carrying the coffins touched down at Rome’s Ciampino airport following the flight from the Congolese city of Goma, near the Rwandan border.
According to Congo’s presidency, the two-car convoy had been stopped on the road north from Goma by six armed men, who killed driver Milambo and led the six other passengers away. Army and park rangers tracked the group and a firefight ensued, during which the kidnappers shot the two Italians.
Congo’s interior ministry has blamed a Rwandan ethnic Hutu rebel militia called the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) for the attack. The FDLR, one of around 120 armed groups operating in eastern Congo, denied responsibility for what it called a “cowardly assassination”.
“The FDLR declare that they are in no way involved in the attack,” the group said in a statement.
The local governor said that the assailants spoke the Rwandan language, Kinyarwanda.
The FDLR, founded by Rwandan former officers and militiamen who the United Nations and others blame for the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, has been blamed for previous kidnappings, including of two British tourists held for several days in May 2018.
President Felix Tshisekedi dispatched his top diplomatic adviser to Goma to support an investigation by local authorities, and a Congolese envoy in Rome would present a letter from Tshisekedi to Italian President Sergio Mattarella, Congo’s presidency said.
Italian Carabinieri police investigators have flown into Congo for a brief mission to liaise with police there, an Italian source told Reuters. When they return home, Italian prosecutors will open a full investigation, the source said.
Attanasio was the first ever Italian ambassador to be killed while in service. Dario Tedesco, an Italian volcanologist based in Goma, paid tribute to his slain friend.
“He was able to talk to all of us, completely different because, he was adapting himself to each of us, (making) us feeling we were important,” Tedesco said. “He believed in what he was doing and this shouldn’t have been his final journey.”