The mayor of the eastern DR Congo city of Beni declared a curfew on Sunday after three weekend bomb attacks.
Beni is in the North Kivu province, which President Felix Tshisekedi placed, along with neighbouring Ituri province, under a “state of siege” on May 6 in a bid to clamp down on militia violence in the region.
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“I don’t want to see anyone in the street,” said Mayor Narcisse Muteba. “Everyone should go inside because we have information that something else is being planned.”
Muteba, who is also a police colonel, added: “I want to see only police and soldiers in the streets.”
An artisanal bomb exploded early Sunday in a Catholic church in the city, injuring two women, followed hours later by a suicide bombing outside a bar.
The bar is around 100 metres (yards) from a mosque, Muteba told reporters, adding that the bomber “died on the spot.”
The attack at the church took place just an hour before a children’s confirmation ceremony was due to be held.
It was the first time a Catholic building has been targeted in the region, which has been beset by rising violence from the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) militia, accused of killing thousands.
On Saturday, another bomb had exploded next to a petrol station on the outskirts of Beni without causing any damage.
The ADF militia is accused of having killed 6,000 people since 2013, according to the Catholic episcopate.
The ADF was suspected of kidnapping three priests from Beni in 2014 – they remain missing and no one has claimed the abduction.
Two imams in Beni known for speaking out against the ADF violence were shot dead in May this year, one inside the city’s mosque and the other after evening prayers.
The militia is the deadliest of an estimated 120 armed groups in the mineral-rich east of the vast central African country, many of them a legacy of two regional wars from 1996 to 2003.
Historically a Ugandan Islamist group now based in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo since 1995, it is accused of having killed hundreds of civilians since launching operations from a base in the jungle around Beni in November 2019.
Beni’s vicar general Laurent Sondirya said two women were injured in Sunday’s church blast, which went off shortly before crowds were due to start gathering for the confirmation ceremony.
“They were targeting a large crowd because the ceremony would bring together children, their parents and the faithful,” he told AFP.
Traces of blood could be seen at the entrance to the church in the aftermath of the explosion, while shards of glass were scattered inside and the sound equipment was destroyed.
The explosion was heard around the Emmanuel Butsili parish in a working-class neighbourhood of Beni, witnesses told AFP.
Experts from the UN’s MONUSCO mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo went to the scene and secured the perimeter.