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Italian ambassador died in gun battle in DRC, not execution, prosecutor says


The two Italians killed in the Democratic Republic of Congo on Monday died in a gun battle, and were not killed execution-style, prosecutor Alberto Pioletti told CNN Thursday.

Italian ambassador Luca Attanasio and Italian carabiniere, or paramilitary police officer, Vittorio Iacovacci, died on Monday after their car was attacked as they traveled in a UN convoy in the eastern part of the Central African country. A third man, Congolese driver Moustapha Milambo, was also killed.

The bodies of the two Italian men arrived at Rome’s Ciampino Airport overnight Tuesday into Wednesday, and were met by Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi. The Italian Foreign Minister, Luigi Di Maio, said Wednesday the country had sent a team to eastern DRC to investigate the incident.

“At the moment all the facts aren’t clear,” said Pioletti. “We still are examining, we are dealing with an area where there are different armed groups, different ethnicities, so we cannot attribute this attack to one of these groups, it is still too early.

“What we know for certain is that it was not an execution, it was a gun fight, the ambassador and the carabiniere were hit by two bullets each,” added Pioletti following autopsies on the two men completed on Wednesday.

The World Food Programme (WFP) said in a statement that Milambo also died in the attack. Four other WFP staff who were in the group are safe and accounted for, according to the UN agency.

An armed group stopped the convoy and forced the passengers to disembark before an exchange of gunfire, said the WFP.

Iacovacci died after a bullet struck him near his heart while Attanasio was shot twice in the abdomen, said Pioletti. Attanasio died on the way to the hospital, which was 50 minutes away.

It is not yet clear whether the bullets that killed the Italians were fired by the attackers or the government military defending them, added Pioletti.

The route was on a road previously designated safe for travel without a security team, according to the WFP.

Rutshuru is just over two hours’ drive from Goma. The road out of the regional capital has been insecure for years with a variety of armed groups operating in the area.

There is a heavy UN peacekeeping presence in the region, and UN convoys need security clearance to travel outside of Goma.

With the identity of the attackers still unknown, the motive for the attack is uncertain. A political motive has not been fully ruled out, said Pioletti, but he added that a kidnapping was more likely.

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