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Italian ambassador slain in Congo

He’s among 3 shot in attack on U.N. convoy on school visit by The Associated Press | February 23, 2021 at 2:00 a.m.
The vehicle in which the Italian ambassador to Congo was killed, according to those at the scene, sits with a smashed window in Nyiragongo, North Kivu province, Congo Monday, Feb. 22, 2021. The Italian ambassador to Congo Luca Attanasio, an Italian carabineri police officer and their Congolese driver were killed Monday in an attack on a U.N. convoy in an area that is home to myriad rebel groups, the Foreign Ministry and local people said. (AP Photo/Justin Kabumba)

KINSHASA, Congo -- The Italian ambassador to Congo, an Italian Carabinieri police officer and their Congolese driver were killed Monday when gunmen attacked a U.N. convoy traveling to a school in eastern Congo, the Italian Foreign Ministry and residents said.

Luca Attanasio, serving at the Italian embassy in the country since 2017, Carabinieri officer Vittorio Iacovacci and their driver were killed, officials said. Other members of the convoy were wounded and taken to a hospital, the World Food Program said.

The ambush occurred as the convoy was traveling from Goma, Congo's eastern regional capital, to visit a World Food Program school project in Rutshuru, the U.N. agency said.

The World Food Program said the attack occurred on a road that had been cleared for travel without security escorts, and it was seeking more information from local officials. Eastern Congo is home to myriad rebel groups all vying for control of the mineral-rich Central African nation.

The attack, a few miles north of Goma, was right next to Virunga National Park. North Kivu Gov. Carly Nzanzu Kasivita said the U.N. vehicles were hijacked by the attackers and taken into the bush. The Congolese army and park guards for Virunga National Park came to help those who had been attacked, he said.

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"There was an exchange of fire. The attackers fired at the bodyguard and the ambassador," the governor said, adding that the ambassador later died from his wounds.

Without citing sources, Italian state TV on Monday night said the convoy apparently was the target of a kidnapping attempt with the aim of securing ransom money. It said the convoy participants were dragged into the bush.

Attanasio, a 43-year-old career diplomat, left behind a wife and three young children.

The attack occurred in the same area where two Britons were kidnapped by unidentified gunmen in 2018, said Mambo Kaway, head of a local civil society group.

"The situation is very tense," he added.

More than 2,000 civilians were killed in eastern Congo last year in violence by armed groups whose brutal attacks have also displaced more than 5.2 million people in what the U.N. calls one of the world's worst humanitarian crises.

Marie Tumba Nzenza, Congo's minister of foreign affairs, sent her condolences and promised the Italian government that the Congolese government would do all it could to find those behind the killings.

Italian President Sergio Mattarella and Premier Mario Draghi also expressed their condolences to the victims' families. Flags at Italian government buildings were ordered to fly at half-staff Monday and today.

"The circumstances of this brutal attack are still unclear and no effort will be spared to shed light on what happened," Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio said.

Di Maio hurried back to Rome from a European Union ministerial meeting in Brussels to discuss the attack with Draghi.

The Rome prosecutors' office investigates crimes abroad against Italians. A specialized Carabinieri unit was expected to arrive in Kinshasha today to help in the Italian investigation.

After diplomatic posts in Switzerland, Morocco and Nigeria, Attanasio was assigned to the Embassy in Kinshasa in September 2017.

In October, he was awarded the Nassiriya International Prize for Peace in a ceremony held in a church in southern Italy. Attanasio was cited for "having contributed to the realization of important humanitarian projects, distinguishing himself for altruism, dedication and the spirit of service for people in difficulty," the La Repubblica newspaper reported.

It quoted Attanasio as saying that "all that which we take for granted in Italy isn't in Congo, where, unfortunately, there are so many problems to resolve."

Congo suffered through one of the world's most brutal colonial reigns before undergoing decades of corrupt dictatorship. Back-to-back civil wars later drew in a number of neighboring countries. In January 2019, Congo experienced its first peaceful democratic transfer of power since independence in 1960 with the election of President Felix Tshisekedi.

The U.N. peacekeeping mission has been working toward drawing down its more than 17,000-troop presence in the country and transfer its security work to Congolese authorities.

Information for this article was contributed by Carley Petesch, Lorne Cook, Frances D'Emilio, Edith M. Lederer and Andrew Meldrum of The Associated Press.

The Italian ambassador to Congo, Luca Attanasio, poses for a photo during a visit to the Sant'Egidio Community Dream center in Kinshasa, Congo, on Jan. 24, 2018. The Italian ambassador to Congo, Italian Carabinieri officer Vittorio Iacovacci, and their Congolese driver were killed Monday in an attack on a U.N. convoy in an area that is home to myriad rebel groups, the Foreign Ministry, and local people said. (Comunita' di Sant'Egidio via AP)
The Italian ambassador to Congo, Luca Attanasio, poses for a photo during a visit to the Sant'Egidio Community Dream center in Kinshasa, Congo, on Jan. 24, 2018. The Italian ambassador to Congo, Italian Carabinieri officer Vittorio Iacovacci, and their Congolese driver were killed Monday in an attack on a U.N. convoy in an area that is home to myriad rebel groups, the Foreign Ministry, and local people said. (Comunita' di Sant'Egidio via AP)
In this image from video, United Nations peacekeepers guard the area where a U.N. convoy was attacked and the Italian ambassador to Congo killed, in Nyiragongo, North Kivu province, Congo Monday, Feb. 22, 2021. The Italian ambassador to Congo Luca Attanasio, an Italian carabineri police officer and their Congolese driver were killed Monday in an attack on a U.N. convoy in an area that is home to myriad rebel groups, the Foreign Ministry and local people said. (AP Photo/Justin Kabumba)
In this image from video, United Nations peacekeepers guard the area where a U.N. convoy was attacked and the Italian ambassador to Congo killed, in Nyiragongo, North Kivu province, Congo Monday, Feb. 22, 2021. The Italian ambassador to Congo Luca Attanasio, an Italian carabineri police officer and their Congolese driver were killed Monday in an attack on a U.N. convoy in an area that is home to myriad rebel groups, the Foreign Ministry and local people said. (AP Photo/Justin Kabumba)
CORRECTS PHOTOGRAPHER BYLINE - United Nations peacekeepers guard the area where a U.N. convoy was attacked and the Italian ambassador to Congo killed, in Nyiragongo, North Kivu province, Congo Monday, Feb. 22, 2021. The Italian ambassador to Congo Luca Attanasio, an Italian carabineri police officer and their Congolese driver were killed Monday in an attack on a U.N. convoy in an area that is home to myriad rebel groups, the Foreign Ministry and local people said. (AP Photo/Justin Kabumba)
CORRECTS PHOTOGRAPHER BYLINE - United Nations peacekeepers guard the area where a U.N. convoy was attacked and the Italian ambassador to Congo killed, in Nyiragongo, North Kivu province, Congo Monday, Feb. 22, 2021. The Italian ambassador to Congo Luca Attanasio, an Italian carabineri police officer and their Congolese driver were killed Monday in an attack on a U.N. convoy in an area that is home to myriad rebel groups, the Foreign Ministry and local people said. (AP Photo/Justin Kabumba)
The gate of the United Nations hospital where the Italian ambassador to Congo was taken after the convoy in which he was travelling was attacked, in Goma, North Kivu province, Congo Monday, Feb. 22, 2021. The Italian ambassador to Congo Luca Attanasio, an Italian carabineri police officer and their Congolese driver were killed Monday in an attack on a U.N. convoy in an area that is home to myriad rebel groups, the Foreign Ministry and local people said. (AP Photo/Justin Kabumba)
The gate of the United Nations hospital where the Italian ambassador to Congo was taken after the convoy in which he was travelling was attacked, in Goma, North Kivu province, Congo Monday, Feb. 22, 2021. The Italian ambassador to Congo Luca Attanasio, an Italian carabineri police officer and their Congolese driver were killed Monday in an attack on a U.N. convoy in an area that is home to myriad rebel groups, the Foreign Ministry and local people said. (AP Photo/Justin Kabumba)
In this image taken from video, United Nations peacekeepers guard the area where a U.N. convoy was attacked and the Italian ambassador to Congo killed, in Nyiragongo, North Kivu province, Congo Monday, Feb. 22, 2021. The Italian ambassador to Congo Luca Attanasio, an Italian carabineri police officer and their Congolese driver were killed Monday in an attack on a U.N. convoy in an area that is home to myriad rebel groups, the Foreign Ministry and local people said. (AP Photo/Justin Kabumba)
In this image taken from video, United Nations peacekeepers guard the area where a U.N. convoy was attacked and the Italian ambassador to Congo killed, in Nyiragongo, North Kivu province, Congo Monday, Feb. 22, 2021. The Italian ambassador to Congo Luca Attanasio, an Italian carabineri police officer and their Congolese driver were killed Monday in an attack on a U.N. convoy in an area that is home to myriad rebel groups, the Foreign Ministry and local people said. (AP Photo/Justin Kabumba)
In this images made from video, the gate of the United Nations base where the Italian ambassador to Congo was taken after the convoy in which he was traveling was attacked, in Goma, North Kivu province, Congo Monday, Feb. 22, 2021. The Italian ambassador to Congo Luca Attanasio, an Italian carabineri police officer and their Congolese driver were killed Monday in an attack on a U.N. convoy in an area that is home to myriad rebel groups, the Foreign Ministry and local people said. (AP Photo/Justin Kabumba)
In this images made from video, the gate of the United Nations base where the Italian ambassador to Congo was taken after the convoy in which he was traveling was attacked, in Goma, North Kivu province, Congo Monday, Feb. 22, 2021. The Italian ambassador to Congo Luca Attanasio, an Italian carabineri police officer and their Congolese driver were killed Monday in an attack on a U.N. convoy in an area that is home to myriad rebel groups, the Foreign Ministry and local people said. (AP Photo/Justin Kabumba)
United Nations peacekeepers guard the area where a U.N. convoy was attacked and the Italian ambassador to Congo killed, in Nyiragongo, North Kivu province, Congo Monday, Feb. 22, 2021. The Italian ambassador to Congo Luca Attanasio, an Italian carabineri police officer and their Congolese driver were killed Monday in an attack on a U.N. convoy in an area that is home to myriad rebel groups, the Foreign Ministry and local people said. (AP Photo/Justin Kabumba)
United Nations peacekeepers guard the area where a U.N. convoy was attacked and the Italian ambassador to Congo killed, in Nyiragongo, North Kivu province, Congo Monday, Feb. 22, 2021. The Italian ambassador to Congo Luca Attanasio, an Italian carabineri police officer and their Congolese driver were killed Monday in an attack on a U.N. convoy in an area that is home to myriad rebel groups, the Foreign Ministry and local people said. (AP Photo/Justin Kabumba)
This picture released by the Italian Carabinieri Press Office on Monday, Feb. 22, 2021, shows late Carabinieri officer Vittorio Iacovacci who was killed in an ambush on Monday, together with the Italian Ambassador to Congo Luca Attanasio, while they were traveling in a U.N. convoy in Nyiragongo, North Kivu province, Congo Monday, Feb. 22, 2021. Their Congolese driver was killed too in an area that is home to myriad rebel groups, the Foreign Ministry and local people said. (Italian Carabinieri Press Office via AP)
This picture released by the Italian Carabinieri Press Office on Monday, Feb. 22, 2021, shows late Carabinieri officer Vittorio Iacovacci who was killed in an ambush on Monday, together with the Italian Ambassador to Congo Luca Attanasio, while they were traveling in a U.N. convoy in Nyiragongo, North Kivu province, Congo Monday, Feb. 22, 2021. Their Congolese driver was killed too in an area that is home to myriad rebel groups, the Foreign Ministry and local people said. (Italian Carabinieri Press Office via AP)
The vehicle in which the Italian ambassador to Congo was killed, according to those at the scene, sits with a smashed window in Nyiragongo, North Kivu province, Congo Monday, Feb. 22, 2021. The Italian ambassador to Congo Luca Attanasio, an Italian carabineri police officer and their Congolese driver were killed Monday in an attack on a U.N. convoy in an area that is home to myriad rebel groups, the Foreign Ministry and local people said. (AP Photo/Justin Kabumba)
The vehicle in which the Italian ambassador to Congo was killed, according to those at the scene, sits with a smashed window in Nyiragongo, North Kivu province, Congo Monday, Feb. 22, 2021. The Italian ambassador to Congo Luca Attanasio, an Italian carabineri police officer and their Congolese driver were killed Monday in an attack on a U.N. convoy in an area that is home to myriad rebel groups, the Foreign Ministry and local people said. (AP Photo/Justin Kabumba)
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