Italy mourns the death of an ambassador and his bodyguard in the Congo

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

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

Attanasio’s assassination hit a deep nerve in Italy, which has been under pressure for the past year due to the pandemic and a political crisis that created weeks of uncertainty. Many Italians also remain sensitive to the fate of their citizens abroad after the brutal murder of a graduate student, Giulio Regeni, in Egypt in 2016.

Photographs of Mr. Attanasio surrounded by Congolese children, or posing with his wife and three young daughters, dominated the front pages of Italian newspapers.

“Luca and Vittorio. The best of Italy, ”read the headline of the Turin newspaper 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 could not express to his family the deep pain of the entire Foreign Ministry and our sincere closeness,” wrote Elisabetta Belloni, secretary general of the ministry, in an editorial in the daily Corriere della Sera. “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. He dedicated himself to this goal with humility, but also with absolute dedication and preparation ”.

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

Prosecutors in Rome launched an investigation into the accident and sent a team of investigators to Goma, the capital of North Kivu, near where the killings took place. The president and the highest ranking officials of the Democratic Republic of the Congo vowed to get to the bottom of the tragedy, which took place in an area near the border with Rwanda that is known for violence.

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

On Tuesday, Congolese President Felix Tshisekedi and his wife met with Attanasio’s wife, Zakia Seddiki, who is the president of a non-governmental organization in the 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 “to shed light on these heinous crimes as soon as possible.”

It was unclear if Attanasio and his bodyguard were shot as part of a kidnapping attempt that went awry, or if he was killed during an exchange of fire between the armed group and the park rangers and a nearby Congolese army unit.

Mr. Attanasio was on his way to Rutshuru in the north to visit a World Food Program project to feed school children, partially funded by the Italian government, in a two-car convoy. The World Food Program said the path they took had previously been cleared for travel without security escorts.

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

“He said he admired our work at the front and that he was proud of us here,” said Miriam Ruscio, Italian program director for the AVSI aid group in the Democratic Republic of Congo, who attended the dinner, referring to Mr. Attanasio.

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

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.

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