Police in the Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo arrested a Kenyan man after at least 17 Christians were killed and dozens injured in a bombing that targeted an Evangelical church in Kasindi town in North Kivu province, an attack claimed by an Islamic State affiliate.
The incident occurred on Sunday during the worship service in the Pentecostal church, and the Allied Democratic Forces, a militant group that pledged its alliance to the Islamic State, claimed responsibility for the bombing, AFP reported.
At least 17 people were killed and 39 wounded, BBC relayed, citing officials.
The bombing was "visibly perpetrated" by ADF "against citizens in full worship in the parish of the 8th Community of Pentecostal Churches of Congo," DRC's Communications Ministry said on Twitter.
The ADF is considered one of the most dangerous armed groups in the DRC, responsible for thousands of civilian deaths and bomb attacks. The group is also active in Uganda.
The Congolese army stated that investigations are ongoing, and a Kenyan man has been arrested in connection with the attack, according to the military.
Scott Morgan, a United States-based Africa security analyst, said in a statement to The Christian Post that ADF recently launched an attack in Uganda, resulting in the capture of one of its high-ranking leaders. The language used in their statement claiming the bombing suggests that the ADF may be using Christians in the Eastern DRC as "scapegoats."
"More than 24 hours later, the Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo has said very little except for that the Army has arrested a Kenyan National in this incident," Morgan wrote in an email. "This is also part of a pattern where the Tshishekedi Government has found it easier to blame outside actors for the problems in the Kivus than admitting that they are turning a blind eye towards some of these atrocities."
"Blaming Rwanda for the actions of M23 did result in a regional visit by Secretary of State Blinken last summer," he added. "It is telling that M23 has been more of a concern to Kinshasa than the actions of the IS branch, which has been declared an [Foreign Terrorist Organization] by Washington."
Morgan said there are "no easy answers" to the question of what DRC government can do to eradicate the threat of ADF.
"[This is] due to the fact it targets Uganda as well and both the Ugandan and Congolese Militaries are working together to end this threat," he wrote.
Eastern DRC has been plagued by armed conflict and violence for decades.
Various militia groups and rebel groups are operating in Eastern DRC. Among the region's major sources of violence and terror are the various ethnic-based militia groups, which have targeted civilians and government forces. These militia groups often fight for control of resources such as gold, tin and tungsten and have been accused of committing human rights abuses, including rape and murder.
The UN peacekeeping mission in the DRC has been deployed in the region since 1999 to protect civilians. However, it has faced challenges in effectively stemming the violence.
The U.S. strategy towards the militias in the Eastern DRC has been "haphazard," Morgan said.
"I am being generous by calling it that," Morgan contends. "The IS threat has garnered an FTO designation but has not been designated as an Entity of Particular Concern under the International Religious Freedom Act. This is a quick and easy fix. M23 and CODECO, for their actions, deserve the same status, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo deserves to be placed on the Special Watch List under IRFA."
The DRC government has also launched several military operations against these militia and rebel groups to restore regional security, but the violence continues.
The region also faces a humanitarian crisis, with millions of people displaced and needing assistance. The situation has been compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has affected the whole country and made it harder for organizations to provide assistance.
Last week, The Voice of the Martyrs, which has tracked the persecution of Christians worldwide since 1997, added four more African countries, including DRC, to the list of the world's most dangerous and difficult places to follow Christ in its 2023 prayer guide for churches.
The church in the eastern parts of Congo is "under immense pressure," VOM explained, saying Islamist groups severely persecute Christians there, raiding villages, destroying churches and brutally killing hundreds of believers.
Last October, a group of nongovernmental organizations urged the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to allow Congolese citizens to remain in the United States with a work permit as they face the possibility of severe persecution by Islamic extremist groups in their home country.
The U.S.-based persecution watchdog International Christian Concern also warned at the time that Christians in the eastern DRC were suffering persecution at the hands of extremist groups like the ADF.
"Though the Congolese government is pushing back against these terrorist groups, insufficient attention is paid to Christian communities, which are targeted for their differing religious beliefs," ICC stated in a report.
"ICC has witnessed the violence in the DRC firsthand, in one instance coming across the still-smoking wreckage of a car attacked by terrorists in June of this year. Just days later, at least 10 Christians were killed when an Islamist extremist group ambushed their three vehicles near the village of Makisabo, Beni. The Allied Democratic Forces, an Islamist extremist group, allegedly blocked the road, shot all the passengers, and set the vehicles on fire."