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Italy mourns an ambassador and his bodyguard, killed in Congo

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Italians on Tuesday mourned the death of Luca Attanasio, the Italian ambassador to the Democratic Republic of Congo, who was killed in an ambush with his bodyguard and their driver while attending a World Food Program humanitarian convoy.

The national media was filled with homage to Mr Attanasio, 43, who was hailed as the youth and humanitarian face of Italian diplomacy, and with detailed accounts of his last hours before his death on Monday.

Mr Attanasios’s assassination hit a deep nerve in Italy, which has been under tension over the past year due to the pandemic and a political crisis that created weeks of uncertainty. Many Italians also remain sensitive to the fate of their citizens abroad after the brutal murder of a graduate student, Giulio Regeni, in Egypt in 2016.

Mr.’s Photos Attanasio smiling and surrounded by Congolese children, or posing with his wife and three little girls, dominated the front pages of the Italys newspapers and their websites.

Luca and Vittorio. Italy’s best, read in the headline of the Torino-based daily La Stampa, referring to Vittorio Iacovacci, the 30-year-old Italian military police officer who died with their ambassador and Congolese driver, Mustapha Milambo of the World Food Program.

His Africa, read the headline on the front page of the left-leaning daily Il Manifesto, showing a selfie taken by the ambassador, right thumb up, with two Congolese children.

Yesterday I could not express to his family the deep pain of the entire Foreign Ministry and our sincere closeness, wrote Elisabetta Belloni, Secretary General of the Ministries, in an editorial in the daily Corriere della Sera. Because silence and emotion prevailed.

Luca was a generous person who wanted to do well, Ms. Belloni said. He believed that Italy with the European Union and the United Nations could play an important role in promoting development and peace. To this goal he committed himself with humility, but also with absolute devotion and readiness.

Pope Francis expressed his condolences to the families of the victims, the diplomatic corps and the military police for the disappearance of these servants of peace and law.

Prosecutors in Rome launched an investigation into the crash, sending a team of investigators to Goma, the capital of North Kivu, near the scene of the killings. The president and top officials of the Democratic Republic of Congo vowed to go to the end of the tragedy, which occurred in an area near the border with Rwanda known for violence.

Dozens of armed groups compete in kidnappings and violent actions in the area, with rebels from the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, the largest foreign armed group operating in the Congo. The rebel group on Tuesday denied any involvement in the attack, saying their men were far from the area.

On Tuesday, Congolese President Flix Tshisekedi and his wife met with Mr.’s wife. Attanasios, Zakia Seddiki, who is the president of a non-governmental organization in Congo that helps women and children in need.

In a statement read on national TV, Mr Tshisekedi said the government had sent a team of investigators to Goma in order to shed light on these horrific crimes as soon as possible.

It was unclear whether Mr Attanasio and his bodyguard were shot as part of a mistaken past kidnapping attempt, or whether he was killed during a shootout between the armed group and park rangers and a nearby Congolese Army unit.

Mr Attanasio headed to Rutshuru, north, to visit a World Food Program project to feed school children, partly funded by the Italian government, in a two-car convoy. The World Food Program said the route they took had previously been cleared for travel without security escorts.

The night before the attack, Mr Attanasio and Mr Iacovacci had dinner with a small group of Italians in exile in Goma.

He said he admired our work on the front lines and was proud of us here, said Miriam Ruscio, the Italian chief of programs for the AVSI aid group in the Democratic Republic of Congo, who attended the dinner, for Mr Attanasio.

It is devastating to know that he is gone, Ms. Ruscio said.

In Mr. Attanasios’s hometown, Limbiate, near Milan, Mayor Antonio Romeo said he would designate future cultural cities in the ambassador’s name.

He was proud of his birthplace in the province, said Mr. Romeo, adding, We will miss him very much.

In a video interview published by the Italian news agency Ansa, Salvatore Attanasio, the ambassadors’ father, said, “We are devastated, it is an incomparable loss.”

He added, “These are unjust things that should never happen.”

Steve Wembi contributed reporting from Kinshasa.

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