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Italy envoy's Congo slaying investigated

Questions raised on security in area of attack; Rwanda rebels deny involvement by The Associated Press | February 24, 2021 at 4:30 a.m.
Unidentified people observe the airplane after it arrived to transport the bodies of Italian ambassador to Congo Luca Attanasio and Carabinieri officer Vittorio Iacovacci to the capital Kinshasa, at the airport in Goma, North Kivu province, Congo Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2021. Congo has dispatched a team to support investigators on the ground in Goma where the Italian ambassador to Congo, an Italian Carabinieri police officer and their driver were ambushed and killed Monday. (AP Photo/Justin Kabumba)

KINSHASA, Congo -- Italian experts were joining U.N. and Congolese authorities in investigating the killings of the Italian ambassador, his bodyguard and their driver in eastern Congo, exploring questions about the dynamics of the attack and security precautions taken for the convoy.

The two-car World Food Program convoy was traveling from Goma, the regional capital in the east, to visit a program school project in Rutshuru, when an armed group blocked their passage Monday and ordered the passengers out, the World Food Program said Tuesday.

The Congolese driver Moustapha Milambo was killed immediately. The World Food Program said Ambassador Luca Attanasio and Italian officer Vittorio Iacovacci were fatally shot in an ensuing shootout.

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But how events transpired remained unclear, with the humanitarian organization saying the road had been previously cleared for travel without security escorts.

U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said Tuesday in New York that the U.N. had opened an internal review concerning the "security around the incident."

Eastern Congo is home to myriad rebel groups all vying for control of parts of the mineral-rich, loosely governed Central African nation that is the size of Western Europe.

"Investigations are underway to find the perpetrators of this despicable crime," said North Kivu governor Carly Nzanzu Kasivita.

Congo's government has blamed the killings on the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, the Rwandan Hutu rebel group. The rebel group, however, on Tuesday, denied responsibility for the attack.

"The [Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda] declares that there is nothing to implicate it in the attack that resulted in the death of the Italian ambassador and asks that Congolese authorities and [the U.N. mission in Congo] to do all they can to shed light on those responsible for this ignoble assassination," rebel spokesman Cure Ngoma said in a statement.

The rebel group noted the attack took place in the "three antennas" area near Goma and the border of Rwanda and close to Congolese and Rwandan military positions. It blamed the killings on those forces.

More than 120 armed groups are active in eastern Congo which has not been secure for more than 25 years, according to Kivu Security Tracker, a joint project between Human Rights Watch and the Congo Research Institute to monitor armed violence in Eastern Congo.

In the specific area of the attack, several armed groups are active including the Rwaandan Hutu rebel group, the Nyatura militia and remnants of the former M23 rebels.

"Attacks on humanitarians and kidnappings of humanitarian workers have been increasing. Last year we recorded 12 of those incidents in North and South Kivu, but only one ended in a death," Pierre Boisselet, coordinator of the Kivu Security Tracker, said.

The World Food Program provided the first run-down of what happened Tuesday, saying that after the armed group stopped the car and killed the driver, the remaining six passengers of the convoy were forced into the bush at gunpoint. An exchange of fire ensued, it said. The ambassador and his security escort were mortally injured during the shootout and subsequently died, it said.

The four other passengers in the group, all World Food Program staff members, have since been accounted for after reports they had been kidnapped, the U.N. agency said.

Attanasio, who was shot in the abdomen, was transported to the U.N. mission's hospital where he died from his wounds, according to Congo's Interior Ministry. The driver and police officer died at the scene.

Congo's Interior Ministry said the provincial authorities of North Kivu were not aware of the presence of the Italian ambassador and therefore did not provide him with security measures. U.N. peacekeeping chief Jean-Pierre Lacroix said that U.N security officials normally determine whether roads are safe.

Information for this article was contributed by Nicole Winfield of The Associated Press.

Asina Selemani, center, the widow of World Food Programme (WFP) driver Moustapha Milambo, who was killed in the attack on a U.N. convoy that also killed the Italian ambassador to Congo and an Italian Carabinieri police officer, sits at her home in Goma, North Kivu province, Congo, Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2021.  An Italian Carabinieri unit is expected in Congo Tuesday to investigate the killings of the Italian ambassador to Congo, an Italian Carabinieri police officer and their driver in the country's east. (AP Photo/Justin Kabumba)
Asina Selemani, center, the widow of World Food Programme (WFP) driver Moustapha Milambo, who was killed in the attack on a U.N. convoy that also killed the Italian ambassador to Congo and an Italian Carabinieri police officer, sits at her home in Goma, North Kivu province, Congo, Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2021. An Italian Carabinieri unit is expected in Congo Tuesday to investigate the killings of the Italian ambassador to Congo, an Italian Carabinieri police officer and their driver in the country's east. (AP Photo/Justin Kabumba)
The coffins of Italian ambassador to Congo Luca Attanasio and Carabinieri officer Vittorio Iacovacci, draped with the Italian flag, are loaded onto an airplane for repatriation to Italy, at the airport in Goma, North Kivu province, Congo Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2021. An Italian Carabinieri unit is expected in Congo Tuesday to investigate the killings of the Italian ambassador to Congo, an Italian Carabinieri police officer and their driver in the country's east. (AP Photo/Justin Kabumba)
The coffins of Italian ambassador to Congo Luca Attanasio and Carabinieri officer Vittorio Iacovacci, draped with the Italian flag, are loaded onto an airplane for repatriation to Italy, at the airport in Goma, North Kivu province, Congo Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2021. An Italian Carabinieri unit is expected in Congo Tuesday to investigate the killings of the Italian ambassador to Congo, an Italian Carabinieri police officer and their driver in the country's east. (AP Photo/Justin Kabumba)
The coffins of Italian ambassador to Congo Luca Attanasio and Carabinieri officer Vittorio Iacovacci, draped with the Italian flag, are prepared to be loaded onto an airplane for repatriation to Italy, at the airport in Goma, North Kivu province, Congo Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2021. An Italian Carabinieri unit is expected in Congo Tuesday to investigate the killings of the Italian ambassador to Congo, an Italian Carabinieri police officer and their driver in the country's east. (AP Photo/Justin Kabumba)
The coffins of Italian ambassador to Congo Luca Attanasio and Carabinieri officer Vittorio Iacovacci, draped with the Italian flag, are prepared to be loaded onto an airplane for repatriation to Italy, at the airport in Goma, North Kivu province, Congo Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2021. An Italian Carabinieri unit is expected in Congo Tuesday to investigate the killings of the Italian ambassador to Congo, an Italian Carabinieri police officer and their driver in the country's east. (AP Photo/Justin Kabumba)
Unidentified people stand on the boarding stairs of an airplane after it arrived to transport the bodies of Italian ambassador to Congo Luca Attanasio and Carabinieri officer Vittorio Iacovacci to the capital Kinshasa, at the airport in Goma, North Kivu province, Congo Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2021. Congo has dispatched a team to support investigators on the ground in Goma where the Italian ambassador to Congo, an Italian Carabinieri police officer and their driver were ambushed and killed Monday. (AP Photo/Justin Kabumba)
Unidentified people stand on the boarding stairs of an airplane after it arrived to transport the bodies of Italian ambassador to Congo Luca Attanasio and Carabinieri officer Vittorio Iacovacci to the capital Kinshasa, at the airport in Goma, North Kivu province, Congo Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2021. Congo has dispatched a team to support investigators on the ground in Goma where the Italian ambassador to Congo, an Italian Carabinieri police officer and their driver were ambushed and killed Monday. (AP Photo/Justin Kabumba)
A van waits with the bodies of Italian ambassador to Congo Luca Attanasio and Carabinieri officer Vittorio Iacovacci to be transported to the capital Kinshasa, at the airport in Goma, North Kivu province, Congo Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2021. Congo has dispatched a team to support investigators on the ground in Goma where the Italian ambassador to Congo, an Italian Carabinieri police officer and their driver were ambushed and killed Monday. (AP Photo/Justin Kabumba)
A van waits with the bodies of Italian ambassador to Congo Luca Attanasio and Carabinieri officer Vittorio Iacovacci to be transported to the capital Kinshasa, at the airport in Goma, North Kivu province, Congo Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2021. Congo has dispatched a team to support investigators on the ground in Goma where the Italian ambassador to Congo, an Italian Carabinieri police officer and their driver were ambushed and killed Monday. (AP Photo/Justin Kabumba)
Colleagues of World Food Programme (WFP) driver Moustapha Milambo, who was killed in the attack on a U.N. convoy that also killed the Italian ambassador to Congo and an Italian Carabinieri police officer, wait to receive his body at the morgue in Goma, North Kivu province, Congo Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2021. An Italian Carabinieri unit is expected in Congo Tuesday to investigate the killings of the Italian ambassador to Congo, an Italian Carabinieri police officer and their driver in the country's east. (AP Photo/Justin Kabumba)
Colleagues of World Food Programme (WFP) driver Moustapha Milambo, who was killed in the attack on a U.N. convoy that also killed the Italian ambassador to Congo and an Italian Carabinieri police officer, wait to receive his body at the morgue in Goma, North Kivu province, Congo Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2021. An Italian Carabinieri unit is expected in Congo Tuesday to investigate the killings of the Italian ambassador to Congo, an Italian Carabinieri police officer and their driver in the country's east. (AP Photo/Justin Kabumba)
The family of World Food Programme (WFP) driver Moustapha Milambo, who was killed in the attack on a U.N. convoy that also killed the Italian ambassador to Congo and an Italian Carabinieri police officer, wait to receive his body at the morgue in Goma, North Kivu province, Congo Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2021. An Italian Carabinieri unit is expected in Congo Tuesday to investigate the killings of the Italian ambassador to Congo, an Italian Carabinieri police officer and their driver in the country's east. (AP Photo/Justin Kabumba)
The family of World Food Programme (WFP) driver Moustapha Milambo, who was killed in the attack on a U.N. convoy that also killed the Italian ambassador to Congo and an Italian Carabinieri police officer, wait to receive his body at the morgue in Goma, North Kivu province, Congo Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2021. An Italian Carabinieri unit is expected in Congo Tuesday to investigate the killings of the Italian ambassador to Congo, an Italian Carabinieri police officer and their driver in the country's east. (AP Photo/Justin Kabumba)
Colleagues of World Food Programme (WFP) driver Moustapha Milambo, who was killed in the attack on a U.N. convoy that also killed the Italian ambassador to Congo and an Italian Carabinieri police officer, wait to receive his body at the morgue in Goma, North Kivu province, Congo Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2021. An Italian Carabinieri unit is expected in Congo Tuesday to investigate the killings of the Italian ambassador to Congo, an Italian Carabinieri police officer and their driver in the country's east. (AP Photo/Justin Kabumba)
Colleagues of World Food Programme (WFP) driver Moustapha Milambo, who was killed in the attack on a U.N. convoy that also killed the Italian ambassador to Congo and an Italian Carabinieri police officer, wait to receive his body at the morgue in Goma, North Kivu province, Congo Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2021. An Italian Carabinieri unit is expected in Congo Tuesday to investigate the killings of the Italian ambassador to Congo, an Italian Carabinieri police officer and their driver in the country's east. (AP Photo/Justin Kabumba)
The coffins of Italian ambassador to Congo Luca Attanasio and Carabinieri officer Vittorio Iacovacci, draped with the Italian flag, are prepared to be loaded onto an airplane for repatriation to Italy, at the airport in Goma, North Kivu province, Congo Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2021. An Italian Carabinieri unit is expected in Congo Tuesday to investigate the killings of the Italian ambassador to Congo, an Italian Carabinieri police officer and their driver in the country's east. (AP Photo/Justin Kabumba)
The coffins of Italian ambassador to Congo Luca Attanasio and Carabinieri officer Vittorio Iacovacci, draped with the Italian flag, are prepared to be loaded onto an airplane for repatriation to Italy, at the airport in Goma, North Kivu province, Congo Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2021. An Italian Carabinieri unit is expected in Congo Tuesday to investigate the killings of the Italian ambassador to Congo, an Italian Carabinieri police officer and their driver in the country's east. (AP Photo/Justin Kabumba)
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