Italy holds state funeral for slain Congo ambassador and bodyguard

Philip Pullella
·2 min read

By Philip Pullella

ROME (Reuters) - Italy on Thursday held a state funeral on Thursday for its ambassador to the Democratic Republic of Congo and his bodyguard killed in an ambush that a cardinal said should prompt everyone to "hear the cry" of a people devastated by violence.

Luca Attanasio, 43, and Vittorio Iacovacci, 30, were shot dead after being kidnapped while travelling in a United Nations' World Food Programme convoy to visit a school feeding project on Monday. WFP driver Mustapha Milambo was also killed.

The funeral, attended by Prime Minister Mario Draghi and other ministers, was held in the Basilica of St Mary of the Angels and Martyrs, a church used for religious services for national leaders and cultural figures.

The caskets, draped in the Italian tri-colour flag, were given a military salute as they were removed from hearses. A soldier commanded "Honour to the Fallen" and a military band played a sombre march as they were carried into the church.

"These brothers decided to commit themselves to helping others even if it meant sacrificing their lives," Cardinal Angelo De Donatis said in his funeral homily.

De Donatis, who is Pope Francis's vicar for Rome diocese, said the deaths should prompt everyone to "hear the cry of the people of Congo, cruelly devastated by violence as it sees its sons and daughters die every day."

Attanasio left a wife and three children and Iacovacci was engaged.

A judicial source in Rome said preliminary autopsy results showed that both were hit twice by crossfire in an apparent kidnapping attempt and not executed.

According to Congo's presidency, the two-car convoy had been stopped on the road north from Goma by six armed men, who killed driver Milambo and led the six other passengers away. Army and park rangers tracked the group and a firefight ensued, during which the two Italians were shot.

Congo's interior ministry has blamed a Rwandan ethnic Hutu rebel militia called the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of

Rwanda (FDLR) for the attack. The FDLR, one of around 120 armed

groups operating in eastern Congo, denied responsibility for

what it called a "cowardly assassination".

Italian Carabinieri police investigators have flown into Congo to liaise with police there. When they return home, Italian prosecutors are expected to open a full investigation.

Congo's president, Felix Tshisekedi, has said he wants to end decades of unrest in the east, which is rich in rare metals used in mobile phones and batteries, but killings have more than doubled in the last year, according to the United Nations.

(Reporting By Philip Pullella; editing by Philippa fletcher)