Several people were killed in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) on Saturday evening after a suicide bomber attacked a crowded restaurant and bar on Christmas Day.
The attack took place in the eastern city of Beni, in an area where Islamic extremists are known to operate. No group immediately claimed responsibility for the deadly bombing.
Saturday's bombing marked the first known time that a suicide bomber has killed victims in eastern Congo.
What we know so far
At least five people, including the attacker, died in the bomb blast, local officials said. Two children were among those killed, according to Mayor Narcisse Muteba.
"Investigations are underway to find the perpetrators of this terrorist attack,'' he told the Associated Press. Muteba urged residents to return to their homes for their own safety.
Another 13 people are being treated for their injuries in hospital, but their condition was not immediately known.
The attacker attempted to enter the building where many people had gathered to celebrate Christmas, but was stopped by security guards. The bomber then detonated an explosive device at the entrance, with images from the scene showing broken chairs and tables scattered at the blast site.
"The suicide bomber, prevented by security from gaining access to the bar, packed with clients, activated the bomb at the entrance," said a statement from military officials running the North Kivu.
The statement blamed the attack on the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), a group that traces its origins to neighboring Uganda and considered to be the deadliest of the militia active in the region.
The ADF did not immediately claim responsibility for the attack.
In a statement, General Sylvain Ekenge, spokesperson for the governor of North Kivu, said people must "remain vigilant and to avoid crowded areas during the holiday season."
"In the city and territory of Beni, it is difficult, in these times to know who is who," he added.
Beni devastated by ongoing insecurity
The latest attack has prompted fears that religious extremism is taking hold of a region already plagued for years by violence, despite an army offensive and the presence of United Nations peacekeepers.
Congolese and Ugandan forces have also launched a campaign against suspected Islamic extremist militants in the region.
In June, the Islamic State group's regional branch, dubbed ISCAP, said it was behind the explosion at a Catholic church that injured two people as well as another blast at a busy intersection on the same day.
From 2018 to 2020, Beni also suffered through an Ebola epidemic that became the second deadliest in history.
In addition, more than 2,200 people died in the eastern region of the DRC as vaccination campaigns were at times disrupted by insecurity in the region.
mvb/rs (AP, AFP, Reuters)