Suspected Islamic extremists killed at least 18 people, and burned down a church and several homes in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo in an overnight attack Wednesday, according to reports.
Reuters reports that an attack on Baeti Village in the North Kivu province was confirmed by the Army in DRC. The village lies about 12 miles west of the city of Oicha.
While officials declined to give a death toll, Kinos Katuho, the leader of a local civil rights group, told the outlet that at least 18 deaths have been tallied in a provisional death toll. He later told AFP that at least 19 were killed — 17 men and two women.
Blame for the attack has been placed on the Allied Democratic Forces, a militant group based in neighboring Uganda that has also been active in the North Kivu province and accused of killing hundreds this year alone.
Masisa Mushogoro, who heads a development committee in the villlage, told Reuters that the attack created a “pain in our hearts” as well as “total panic in the village.”
“We don’t know if tomorrow the ADF will come back here again,” Mushogoro said.
Janvier Kasairio, a local representative for a civil society group, told AFP that between 15 to 20 people were killed and several homes were torched.
Katuho told AFP that 40 houses and a church were burned down and several people are missing.
"The army was alerted but did not intervene," he was quoted as saying.
However, a spokesperson for the armed forces told AFP when asked about Katuho’s claim that it "cannot react to this nonsense.”
ADF has been active in the Beni territory of North Kivu province for three decades. However, military campaigns against the militant group that began last fall have caused the faction to disperse into smaller groups that have spread out to neighboring territories, where the number of attacks has increased, according to the United Nations.
Over the last two years, the ADF has intensified and expanded its attacks on civilian communities in DRC’s eastern provinces. An unofficial count cited by AFP finds that at least 600 civilians have been killed by ADF since the military crackdown began last year.
According to the U.N., ADF attacks in the last year-and-a-half have led to the death of over 1,000 people and wounded many others. The U.N. also states that the ADF’s actions might amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity.
AFP reports that ADF has never claimed responsibility for the attacks. But some of its attacks have been claimed by the Islamic State’s Central African Province. However, there is no clear evidence of close collaboration between the two groups.
In May, ADF was blamed for a series of attacks on villages in the Ituri province in which 57 people were killed. In January, ADF was blamed for a series of attacks in the Beni territory in which at least 36 people were hacked to death with machetes.
According to the Kivu Security Tracker, a research initiative that monitors violence in the region, there have been over 3,771 violent deaths in the province since 2017.