A faction of the Islamic State group based in Africa said Tuesday that it is responsible for two bombings in eastern Congo, raising fears that extremism has infiltrated a region with a long history of rebel conflict.
A Ugandan man detonated explosives in a suicide attack on Sunday in the eastern town of Beni, a city occupied by United Nations peacekeepers and the Congolese army in recent years. The Associated Press reported that ISIS claimed it was its first suicide bombing.
But authorities said the man was a member of the rebel Allied Democratic Forces. The Alliance of Democratic Forces pledged allegiance to the Islamic State, but no such information was disclosed confirming that the two organizations were working together on the bombings.
For more reports from the Associated Press, see below.
Authorities said that while no civilians were killed in Sunday’s suicide bombing, it occurred on the same day that another blast rocked a Catholic church in the area.
The Central African region of ISIS claimed responsibility for both bombings. She added that the suicide bomber was targeting Christians in a bar in Beni, according to the SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors communications from extremist groups.
In a separate statement, the ISIS group said it detonated an explosive device inside the Catholic Diocese of Potseli. Authorities said two people were injured.
Eastern Congo has been mired in conflict for more than a quarter of a century, particularly near its border with Rwanda. Armed groups there vied for control of the region’s mineral resources.
The Australian Defense Force, which has its origins in neighboring Uganda, has launched an increasing number of attacks in and around Beni in the past several years even as the Ebola epidemic has spread in the community. Rebel attacks have led to the city center being shot at on multiple occasions, angering members of the community about the inability of the United Nations and the military to stop the violence.
Authorities in Beni urged residents to remain calm, and closed schools, markets and churches for 48 hours after Sunday’s attacks.
News of the suicide bombing terrified many Beni residents, who feared it was a sign that extremists had made raids deeper, endangering the community.
“Here in Beni, we’ve never seen such things before,” Mmbiri Mafuta said after Sunday’s attacks. “Today it is a tavern, a church and a market. We don’t know if it will be a school tomorrow. God help us.”