KINSHASA, Congo (AP) — Six men in Congo were sentenced to life in prison on Friday for the 2021 murder of Italy’s ambassador and two others.
The sentence was announced by a military tribunal in the capital, Kinshasa, following a six-month trial.
Luca Attanasio, Italy’s ambassador to Congo since 2017, was one of three people killed in February 2021 in an ambush on a World Food Program convoy that was traveling from Goma, Congo’s eastern regional capital, to visit a WFP school project in Rutshuru.
Italian security officer Vittorio Iacovacci and driver Moustapha Milambo were also killed.
Violence has been simmering in eastern Congo for decades as more than 120 armed groups fight for power, resources, land and some to protect their communities.
Several armed groups are active in the specific area of the attack including the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, which is a Rwandan Hutu rebel group known as FDLR, the Nyatura militia and M23 rebels.
The attack occurred in the same area where two Britons were kidnapped by unidentified gunmen in 2018, though they were released days later.
Congo’s government initially blamed the killings on FDLR. who denied responsibility for the attack.
The prosecution said the men were part of a criminal gang and had called for the death sentence. They accused the defendants of trying to kidnap the ambassador so they could demand a ransom and said the initial intent was not to kill him. Five of those sentenced are in the N’Dolo military prison in Kinshasa while the sixth man is still on the run.
The defense said their clients were tortured into confessing and has appealed the decision, which would launch a new trial in the military court. “They all claim their innocence pure and simple,” said Joseph Amzati one of the defense lawyers.