Suicide bomber kills at least six in eastern Congo on Christmas Day

Suicide bomber kills at least six in eastern Congo on Christmas Day
Two children were among the dead and 13 other people were injured in the attack

A suicide bomber attacked a restaurant and bar in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s eastern city of Beni on Christmas Day, killing six people.

At least 13 other people were injured and taken to a local hospital, officials said.

Heavy gunfire sounded shortly after the bomb was detonated, with panicked crowds fleeing the town’s centre.

This attack marks the first known suicide bombing in Beni that has caused deaths.

An Islamic State affiliate claimed responsibility for two explosions in the town in June, deepening fears that religious extremism has taken hold in the region which has been plagued by rebels for years.

The explosions included the first suicide bombing in eastern Congo, but with no casualties.

General Sylvain Ekenge, the spokesperson for the governor of North Kivu, said security guards had blocked the bomber from entering the packed bar and so they detonated the explosives at the entrance.

“We call on people to remain vigilant and to avoid crowded areas during the holiday season,” he said. “In the city and territory of Beni, it is difficult, in these times, to know who is who.”

Rachel Magali, who was at the restaurant-bar for about three hours, witnessed the events unfold.

“Suddenly we saw black smoke surrounding the bar and people started to cry,” she told the Associated Press. “We rushed to the exit where I saw people lying down. There were green plastic chairs scattered everywhere and I also saw heads and arms no longer attached. It was really horrible.”

Two children are believed to be among the dead, according to Mayor Narcisse Muteba, who is also a police colonel.

“Investigations are underway to find the perpetrators of this terrorist attack,” he told AP.

Beni has long been targeted by rebels from the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), a group that originates from neighbouring Uganda.

But in June, the Islamic State group’s Central Africa province later said it was behind the suicide bomber and another explosion that same day at a Catholic church, leaving two people wounded.

ISIL is known to be active in the town, claiming responsibility for an attack in June 2019 that killed and injured 25 people.

Residents of the town have repeatedly expressed anger over the ongoing insecurity despite an army offensive and the presence of UN peacekeepers in Beni.