American, British citizens involved in thwarted DR Congo ‘coup attempt’, army says

The DR Congo military on Sunday said it had thwarted an “attempted coup” near the offices of President Felix Tshisekedi in Kinshasa involving “foreigners and Congolese”.

It happened in the early hours of the morning outside the residence of Economy Minister Vital Kamerhe, in the Gombe area in the north of the capital, near the Palais de la Nation that houses the President’s offices, a spokesman said.

“An attempted coup d’etat has been stopped by the defence and security forces,” said General Sylvain Ekenge in a message broadcast on national television.

Shots were also heard near the Palais de la Nation at the time of the coup attempt, according to a number of sources.

Later on Sunday, the army spokesman said several Americans and a British man were part of the group involved in the operation.

The coup bid was led by Christian Malanga, 41, a Congolese man who was a “naturalised American” and had been “definitively neutralised” — killed — by the security forces, General Ekenge said in a broadcast on Sunday evening.

The group was made up of “several nationalities”, General Ekenge said, adding that around 40 of the attackers had been arrested, and four — including Mr Malanga — killed.

“We also have a naturalised British subject, the number two of the group,” the spokesman added. Mr Malanga’s son, Marcel Malanga, was also among the attackers, he said.

Footage aired by local media showed two men, one with a bloodied nose, sitting on the ground under arrest with their hands clasped pleadingly.

Pictures of a US passport also showed another white man alleged to have been involved, a 36-year-old born in Maryland, who describes himself on his social media profiles as a medicinal cannabis entrepreneur.

In 2014, the man pleaded guilty in a Washington court to possessing and conspiring to distribute less than 50 kilograms of marijuana, The Washington Post reported, citing court documents.

A 2022 article by the Africa Intelligence news website linked the man to Mr Malanga’s gold mining venture in Mozambique.

Two police killed

Mr Kamerhe and his family were not harmed in the attack but two police officers looking after them were killed, said a source close to the minister.

The group had allegedly planned to attack the home of the new Prime Minister Judith Suminwa, and the residence of Defence Minister Jean-Pierre Bemba.

But they “could not identify the home” of Ms Suminwa and had not been able to find Mr Bemba at his residence.

After the attack at Mr Kamerhe’s home, the group then went to the Palais de la Nation, brandishing flags of Zaire, the name of the Democratic Republic of Congo under the dictator Mobutu Sese Seko, who was overthrown in 1997.

“I am shocked by the events this morning and very worried by the reports of American citizens allegedly being involved,” Lucy Tamlyn, the US ambassador to the DRC, posted on X in French.

“Rest assured that we are co-operating with authorities in DRC to the fullest extent possible, as they investigate these criminal acts and hold accountable any American citizen involved.”

France’s ambassador had reported automatic weapon fire in the area, urging nationals to avoid it.

Zaire flags

During the day, certain streets near the Palais de la Nation remained closed to traffic, but the situation appeared calm, AFP journalists reported.

“I’m a little afraid to move around like that in Gombe, there aren’t many people … But I have to sell my goods,” bread-seller Jean-Mbuta said.

Videos on social media showed men — including at least two white men wearing masks — in fatigues at the Palais de la Nation, brandishing flags of Zaire.

The Zaire flag was mostly green while the DRC one is largely blue.

“The time has arrived, long live Zaire, long live the children of Mobutu,” a man who appeared to be the head of the group said in Lingala, a language spoken in parts of the DRC.

“Felix has fallen … we are victorious,” he added.

At one point, someone says in English, “Felix, we’re coming for you n****.”

AFP was also unable to verify the videos.

Mr Malanga had set up a political organisation among the Congolese diaspora in the US and proclaimed himself president in exile, according to The Washington Post.

Dino Mahtani, who has held senior positions for the United Nations in Congo, told the newspaper Congolese intelligence had previously told him Mr Malanga was a former US military officer and suspected him of trying to assassinate former President Joseph Kabila.

“Obviously, Malanga has been used by somebody,” Mr Mahtani said.

“There’s many people unhappy with the President inside the Congo and ambitious powers outside the Congo who want him removed — and a lot of it connects to resource ambitions, including gold.”

Mr Tshisekedi was re-elected at the end of December when he received more than 70 per cent of votes in the first round.

The parties backing him won around 90 per cent of seats in the parliamentary elections held the same day.

But he is yet to form a government some five months after the elections.

Mr Kamerhe on April 23 was named as a candidate for president of the National Assembly, the DRC’s main legislative body.

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