Attack in eastern Congo kills 9; US ambassador vows support

BENI, Congo — At least nine civilians, including women, were killed in an attack by rebels in Congo’s eastern city of Beni, officials said Thursday. The attack in Beni’s Rwangoma neighborhood is the third such attack in the Beni area this week.

Police and the military have blamed Allied Democratic Forces rebels for the violence.

“These ADF terrorists attacked peaceful populations … killing and kidnapping others,” said Beni’s police chief, Col. Narcisse Muteba. “These rebels used the kidnapped civilians (as shields) to escape the Congolese army. Investigations are underway to find the perpetrators of this crime.”

Some of the victims were killed in their homes while others were taken to the center of the neighborhood before being shot and beaten with machetes or pieces of concrete, the military spokesperson in the region, Lt. Anthony Mwulushayi, said.

Nine bodies are in the morgue, he said, adding that one other body of a woman remains at the scene.

“Alongside the human toll, businesses were looted before being set on fire, and residences were also set on fire,” he said.

This attack comes days after two explosions on Sunday hit a Catholic church in Beni’s Butsili district and a market in another district, leaving four wounded. The Islamic State group’s Central Africa Province claimed responsibility for the two Sunday explosions, which included its first suicide bombing.

Many Beni residents protested the violence and angrily demanded that the police and military provide better protection to the civilian population. Demonstrators carried the body of a slain victim to the town hall, where the army and police dispersed the protests with live ammunition.

“Are we Congolese like the others? In Beni, we are being killed with bombs, sporadic machete attacks … I would like the government to help us because we are going to die overnight,” said Kambale Tsongo, a protester carrying the body of a victim.

U.S. Ambassador to Congo, Mike Hammer, visited Beni on Thursday and told The Associated Press that the United States stands in solidarity with the residents of Beni, and will help track down attackers who are allied to the Islamic State group. He visited Beni Thursday morning.

“We will begin intelligence cooperation between the Congolese army and the U.S.,” he said. “There will also be the arrival of more than 1,000 soldiers to hunt down the Ugandan rebels of the ADF.” He said the U.S. soldiers will help train the Congolese army as well as police forces.

Eastern Congo has been mired in conflict for more than a quarter-century particularly near its border with Rwanda. Armed groups there have vied for control of the region’s mineral resources.

The ADF, which traces its origins to nearby Uganda, has mounted an escalating number of attacks in and around Beni in the last several years even as the community was struck by an Ebola epidemic.

AP writer Jean-Yves Kamale in Kinshasa, Congo contributed.