The Washington Post

Diplo­mat from Italy is killed in Congo

Driver, body­guard also die in am­bush near Virunga Na­tional Park

- BY MAX BEARAK max.bearak@wash­post.com Crime · Incidents · Italy · Democratic Republic of Congo · United Nations · World Food Programme · Rwanda · Uganda · Republic of Congo · Carabinieri · Virunga National Park · Rutshuru · Luigi Di Maio

nairobi — Italy’s am­bas­sador to Congo, as well as his Ital­ian body­guard and a Con­golese driver, were killed Mon­day when un­known as­sailants at­tempted to kid­nap them in a restive part of the coun­try, ac­cord­ing to lo­cal of­fi­cials.

Italy’s For­eign Min­istry is­sued a brief state­ment con­firm­ing the deaths of the two Ital­ians, who it said were trav­el­ing with a U.N. peace­keep­ing-mis­sion con­voy. Pic­tures posted on so­cial me­dia by lo­cal jour­nal­ists showed a dam­aged ve­hi­cle be­long­ing to the World Food Pro­gram and the am­bas­sador, Luca At­tana­sio, ly­ing wounded on a truck of nearby Virunga Na­tional Park.

The gov­er­nor of North Kivu prov­ince, where the at­tack took place, told Reuters that the as­sailants stopped the con­voy by fir­ing warn­ing shots, then killed the driver and at­tempted to lead the Ital­ians into a for­est by the side of the road. Park rangers then opened fire, and the two Ital­ians were killed in the en­su­ing melee.

At­tana­sio, 43, had been in charge of Italy’s mis­sion to Congo since 2017 and was made am­bas­sador in 2019. He leaves be­hind a wife and three young daugh­ters. His guard was iden­ti­fied as Vit­to­rio Ia­co­v­acci, 30.

The driver’s name has not been re­leased, but World Food Pro­gram of­fi­cials said he was a mem­ber of their staff. The or­ga­ni­za­tion’s state­ment also said the team was con­duct­ing a field visit to a school feed­ing pro­gram in the town of Rut­shuru.

The area around Virunga has been a hot­bed of vi­o­lence for decades, and the vil­lage where Mon­day’s at­tack took place is the same one from which two Bri­tish tourists were briefly kid­napped in 2019, prompt­ing au­thor­i­ties to close the park to tourists for nine months. Six rangers were killed last month, adding to a toll of about 200 who have been slain in at­tacks by armed groups.

Virunga sits amid a string of vol­ca­noes that strad­dle Congo’s bor­ders with Rwanda and Uganda. Armed el­e­ments from all three coun­tries have com­peted over the re­gion’s min­eral riches and other re­sources for decades. The on­go­ing hu­man­i­tar­ian cri­sis there has brought new tar­gets for mon­ey­mak­ing by way of kid­nap­ping.

“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.”

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