3 Americans accused of involvement in Congo coup attempt. Here's what we know about what happened.

A spokesperson for the Congo army said 3 Americans from Utah were detained following the foiled coup on May 19.

Congolese security forces secure the streets of Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, on May 19.
Congolese security forces secure the streets of Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, on May 19. (Samy Ntumba Shambuyi/AP)

At least three Americans were involved in a foiled coup in the Democratic Republic of Congo last week that left six dead and dozens of others arrested.

On May 19 at 4:30 a.m., 50 armed men — allegedly led by Christian Malanga, a self-exiled opponent of the Congolese government who once lived in Utah — staged the coup in Kinshasa, Congo’s capital.

Armed assailants, who were livestreaming, first attacked the home of Vital Kamerhe, a politician who has since been elected speaker of the Democratic Republic of Congo's national assembly. After a 40-minute gunfight, the assailants attempted to infiltrate the presidential palace, home to President Félix Tshisekedi, who was unharmed in the incident.

Congolese army spokesperson Brig. Gen. Sylvain Ekenge told the Associated Press the attempted coup was “nipped in the bud by Congolese defense and security forces.”

Ekenge said six people, including Malanga and two police officers, were killed and dozens were arrested, including three U.S. citizens: Malanga’s 21-year-old son Marcel; his former classmate Tyler Thompson, 21, from their hometown of West Jordan, Utah; and convicted marijuana trafficker Benjamin Reuben Zalman-Polun.

Christian Malanga, 41, referred to himself as the president of the “New Zaire” government, an alternative or shadow government in Congo that he created in 2017. According to AP, his website bio said he was a refugee who settled in Salt Lake City in the 1990s, started a family and became a father to eight kids. For employment, he sold used cars and was involved in gold mining before returning to Congo to run for political office and then eventually leading the uprising. (The State Department said it could not confirm whether Malanga was a U.S. citizen, according to AP.)

The self-exiled Malanga appeared in the livestreamed video at the presidential palace surrounded by several people in military uniform and said: “Felix, you’re out. We are coming for you.”

As far as the others who were involved, Christian’s son Marcel — who was seen in the livestream alongside his father in the presidential palace — has been detained by Congolese forces. His mother, Brittney Sawyer, told the AP that the former high school football player “was an innocent boy following his father.” He reportedly attempted to get several former teammates to go on the trip to Congo.

Tyler Thompson, who played football with Marcel, was detained as well. According to his family, Thompson — who was seen begging for his life in the livestream — said he was going to Africa on vacation. The Thompson family called him a political pawn who was lured into the conflict under false pretenses. They also said they’ve had no direct communication with him since his arrest.

The third person detained is Benjamin Reuben Zalman-Polun, who pleaded guilty to trafficking marijuana in 2015. He is apparently connected to Christian through a Mozambique gold mining company, according to that country’s government, AP reported.

Cole Patrick Ducey, an engineer living in Eswatini, told ABC News that online reports mistakenly claimed he was involved in the attempted coup, but he wasn’t. Ducey — who attended the University of Colorado with Zalman-Polun — called it a "huge case of mistaken identity." Congolese officials confirmed that he wasn’t involved in any capacity.

Daniel Gonzalez, who was on the same football team as Marcel and Thompson, told AP the Congolese opposition leader’s son offered him $50,000 to $100,000 to travel with him for the summer to Congo, where he would be employed as Christian’s security guard for four months. He said he was told he would be trained for the job, which Marcel insisted would be safe, and get to explore a new part of the world. Gonzalez said Marcel told him his father was letting him hire a friend — and was happy to extend a lucrative offer to someone who needed the money. Gonzalez, 22, who works for FedEx, told the outlet he considered it, but the offer was vague and he wanted to spend the summer with his girlfriend, so he ultimately declined.

“I feel really sad for Tyler and Marcel but, at the end of the day, I can just be grateful that I didn’t go because I would be stuck in the same scary situation,” said Gonzalez, who said Marcel made the job offer via Snapchat.

Gonzalez claimed Marcel posted videos to Snapchat that showed Thompson looking scared as Congolese soldiers surrounded their vehicle amid the attempted coup. He said he messaged Marcel to ask whether Thompson was OK and urged them to stay safe. He said Marcel replied that they were.

According to the same outlet, Marcel seemed “desperate” to bring someone he knew with him to Congo and pitched it many different ways to his American friends, including other former teammates Luke Barbee and Jaden Lalor. To some, Marcel called it a family vacation; to others a service trip to build wells in drought-stricken communities, as well as a “big financial opportunity.”

“I consider Marcel a brother to me and Tyler a friend, and I truly believe Marcel’s father must have pressured them for his own wants,” Lalor told AP. “I just want them back safely.”