Italy regrets an ambassador and his bodyguard, killed in Congo

The Italians mourned on Tuesday the death of Luca Attanasio, the Italian ambassador to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, who was killed in an ambush with his bodyguard and his driver while riding on a World Food Program humanitarian convoy.

The national media was full of homage to Mr. Attanasio, 43, who was praised as the young and humanitarian face of Italian diplomacy.

Attanasio’s murder hit Italy deeply, which is under pressure last year because of the pandemic and a political crisis that has created weeks of uncertainty. Many Italians also remain sensitive to the fate of their citizens abroad after the brutal death of a graduate student, Giulio Regeni, in Egypt in 2016.

Photos of Mr. Attanasio surrounded by Congolese children, or posing with his wife and three young daughters, dominated the front pages of Italy’s daily newspapers.

“Luca and Vittorio. The best of Italy, ”read the headline in Turin’s daily La Stampa, referring to Vittorio Iacovacci, the 30-year-old Italian military policeman who died with the ambassador and his Congolese driver, Mustapha Milambo, of the World Food Program.

“Yesterday I was unable to express to your family the profound sadness of the entire Itamaraty and our sincere closeness,” wrote Elisabetta Belloni, secretary general of the ministry, in an editorial in the Corriere della Sera newspaper. “Because silence and emotion prevailed.”

“Luca was a generous person who wanted to do good,” said Belloni. “He believed that Italy – with the European Union and the United Nations – could play an important role in promoting development and peace. To this end, he dedicated himself with humility, but also with absolute commitment and preparation. “

Pope Francis expressed his condolences on Tuesday to the victims’ families, the diplomatic corps and the military police “for the disappearance of these peace and law servants”.

Prosecutors in Rome initiated an investigation into the accident, sending a team of investigators to Goma, the capital of North Kivu, near the site of the murders. The president and senior officials of the Democratic Republic of Congo have pledged to get to the bottom of the tragedy, which happened in an area close to the border with Rwanda, known for the violence.

Dozens of armed groups compete in kidnappings and violent actions in the area. Democratic Forces’ Liberation Rwandan rebels are the largest foreign armed group operating in Congo. The rebel group on Tuesday denied any involvement in the attack, saying its men were far from the area.

On Tuesday, Congolese President Félix Tshisekedi and his wife met Attanasio’s wife, Zakia Seddiki, who is president of a non-governmental organization in Congo that helps women and children in need.

In a statement read on national television, Tshisekedi said the government had sent a team of investigators to Goma “so that we can shed light on these heinous crimes as soon as possible.”

It is not clear whether Attanasio and his bodyguard were shot as part of a failed kidnapping attempt or whether he was murdered during an exchange of fire between the armed group and rangers and a nearby Congolese army unit.

Mr. Attanasio was going to Rutshuru, in the north, to visit a World Food Program project to feed schoolchildren, partly financed by the Italian government, on a two-car train. The World Food Program said the road they took had already been cleared to travel without security escorts.

The night before the attack, Attanasio and Iacovacci had dinner with a small group of Italian expats in Goma.

“He said he admired our work on the front lines and was proud of us here,” said Miriam Ruscio, Italian program chief for the AVSI aid group in the Democratic Republic of Congo, who attended the dinner, about Attanasio.

“It is devastating to know that he is gone,” said Ruscio.

In a video interview published by the Italian news agency Ansa, Salvatore Attanasio, the ambassador’s father, said: “We are devastated, it is an immeasurable loss.”

He added: “These are unfair things that should never happen”.

Steve Wembi contributed reporting from Kinshasa.