A suspected Islamist suicide bomber from a rebel group aligned with Islamic State killed at least six people, including children, and injured more than a dozen others when he used an explosive device to kill himself at the entrance of a busy restaurant where Christmas was being celebrated in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
After the Christmas Day attack on a restaurant called In Box in the city of Beni in the eastern province of Ituri, green chairs could be seen scattered across the road, some melted or smoldering, and four bodies, including that of a small girl, as per images shared on social media, according to Reuters, which said six people died and 14 were injured, including two local officials.
“I was sitting there. There was a motorbike parked there. Suddenly the motorbike took off, then there was a deafening noise,” local radio presenter Nicolas Ekila told AFP.
“The suicide bomber, prevented by security guards from entering a crowded bar, activated the bomb at the entrance of the bar,” the regional governor’s spokesman, Général Ekenge Sylvain, was quoted as saying in a statement.
A Congolese partner agency of the U.S.-based persecution watchdog International Christian Concern called the blast “an action of terror,” saying the Islamist rebel group Allied Democratic Forces could be behind it.
The deadly rebel group has been attacking Christians and clashing with the army in Nord Kivu and Ituri provinces which have been under a “state of siege” since May. The military, which has taken effective control in the two provinces, has still not been able to stop the armed militia’s attacks.
The Anglican Bishop of Beni Diocese described the Christmas Day attack as a “cowardice activity carried out by weak rebels who want to make followers of their faith by force,” ICC said.
“Recently, the attacks have only been … in the villages where there is not enough security watch … but now it seems like the terrorists are trying to make a statement that they are still present even in cities,” the bishop was quoted as saying. “They targeted the hotel because they knew that many people would gather in the evening to continue celebrating Christmas. Today, churches met as usual to begin the Christmas holiday … but now things have taken a new turn. However, we shall not let fear diminish the joy of Christ in this season, and we shall stand in prayer with the families of those killed today.”
ICC’s local partner also called the attack “unexpected because we are used to hearing incidences of Christians being killed in the villages.”
“The last time we had such terror attacks in this town of Beni was in May and June, where the attackers also planted bombs in churches, but that was stopped by the government forces,” the source recalled. “In June, one woman was killed and others injured when a bomb planted inside a church’s compound exploded. Another bomb had been trapped at a bar that killed several revelers.”
The rebel group, against which Congo and Uganda launched a joint operation on Nov. 30, has killed hundreds of Christians and left thousands homeless and displaced this year.