Assailants armed with machetes and automatic weapons attacked the state television station, the airport and the main military base in Congo’s capital in what appeared to be a coup attempt early yesterday morning, before being repelled by the country’s military.
Congo’s government spokesman Lambert Mende confirmed the attack, saying around 40 people were killed in the exchange of fire yesterday morning, including 16 at the military base, 16 at the airport and eight at the TV station. Another six were captured, he said.
“These are terrorists, you can’t call them anything else,” Mr Mende said.
Most residents of Kinshasa first realised the attack was under way while watching a morning talk show on Radio Television Nationale Congolaise, the state broadcaster. The presenter of Le Panier, or The Breadbasket, show was in mid- sentence, when the intruders burst in. They had time to identify themselves as being devotees of a local prophet, before the signal on state TV was cut, said Pascal Amisi, the deputy chief of staff of Congo’s minister of communication.
Between 7am and 8am local time, gunmen also attacked the international airport and the military camp in the capital housing the country’s senior army leaders.
“They attacked three different targets at the same time,” said Amisi.
“We don’t know for sure who they are but the group that attacked the TV station said they were representing Prophet Mukungubila,” he added, naming Gideon Mukungubila, an evangelical Christian leader in Congo, who has built-up a following and who broadcasts messages on local TV and radio.
“Around 30 men attacked the TV station while the Le Panier show was in progress. They came in with knives and said they had a political message to share, before the signal was yanked.”
At the state TV station, an employee who was inside the building when the attack began described a scene of confusion and terror.
“There were around 30 armed men who burst into the headquarters of the television station. They started firing, and we hid,” said the employee who refused to give his name out of fear for his safety. He said that before they were chased out, they had time to scream out, “Gideon Mukungubila has come to liberate Congo from the slavery imposed on us by Rwanda.”
With a population of nearly 66 million, Congo spans a territory as large as Western Europe. It has twice gone to war with its smaller neighbour to the east, Rwanda, which as recently as this year was accused of propping up a rebel group, ensconced in Congo’s eastern forest.
President Joseph Kabila, who is himself from the east and is derided by his opponents as being “Rwandan,” came to power in 2001, after the assassination of his father, warlord Laurent Kabila. The elder Kabila marched his rebel army into Kinshasa in 1997, grabbing power in a coup. The nation has remained among the poorest in the world under both Mr Kabila and his father who ruled before him. Elections in 2011 gave the younger Kabila a second term, but the vote was widely criticized as fraudulent.