Islamic State claimed its first attack in Congo on Thursday, and declared it the “Central Africa Province” of the “Caliphate,” after two Congolese soldiers and a civilian were killed in a shootout.
The three died in clashes on Tuesday in Bovata, near the town of Beni, a source at the UN peacekeeping mission and a civil society leader told Reuters.
The town and the surrounding area have been simultaneously beset by militia violence and an Ebola epidemic.
It was not possible to independently verify Islamic State’s claim, made through its Amaq news agency.
There are more than a dozen different militia groups and criminal outfits operating in this area of eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.
IS also claimed a higher toll of five soldiers killed and three wounded.
The UN source and a local civil society leader, David Moaze, said witnesses at the scene of the attack had blamed an Islamist group called the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), which may have links to Islamic State.
A report by New York University’s Congo Research Group and the Bridgeway Foundation in November said the ADF had received money from a financier linked to Islamic State, suggesting tentative ties between the Congo insurgents and other jihadists in Africa and beyond.
Keen to woo anti-terrorist support from Western powers, Congolese authorities have blamed the ADF for a series of massacres in the last two years in the east of the country, usually without producing any evidence that it was them.
Rival militia groups control parts of eastern Congo, long after the official end of a 1998-2003 war in which millions of people died.