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WFP: Security protocols, leaks a focus of Congo probe

A U.N. investigation into the attack on a humanitarian convoy in Congo that killed the Italian ambassador, his bodyguard and driver will look into whether the long-planned mission's security protocols were followed and whether information might have leaked to the unknown gunmen involved in the ambush.

The deputy communications director of the World Food Program, Greg Barrow, told an online briefing Friday that the Feb. 22 mission to bring Ambassador Luca Attanasio to a WFP school feeding program in eastern Congo had been in the works since 2020.

Advance planning and security meetings as well as security briefings took place up to the moment the seven-member team took off from Goma, in Congo’s east, in a two-car convoy bound for the program in Rutshuru, he said.

Carabinieri officers stand by the coffin of Italian ambassador to the Democratic Republic of Congo Luca Attanasio, in Limbiate, near Milan, Italy, Friday, Feb. 26, 2021. Italy paid tribute to its ambassador to Congo and his bodyguard who were killed in an attack on a U.N. convoy, honoring them with a state funeral Thursday. (Claudio FurlanLaPresse via AP)

“Very careful planning went on ahead of this visit,” he said.

Attanasio, his security escort, Carabiniere paramilitary officer Vittorio Iacovacci, and the WFP’s Congolese driver Moustapha Milambo were killed Monday when an armed group stopped them and ordered them out of their cars. Milambo was killed instantly, and Attanasio and Iacovacci were fatally shot in an ensuing shootout after a nearby ranger patrol arrived on the scene.

There has been no claim of responsibility for the attack. Several armed groups are active in the region.

Carabinieri officers stand by the coffin of Italian ambassador to the Democratic Republic of Congo Luca Attanasio, in Limbiate, near Milan, Italy, Friday, Feb. 26, 2021. Italy paid tribute to its ambassador to Congo and his bodyguard who were killed in an attack on a U.N. convoy, honoring them with a state funeral Thursday. (Claudio FurlanLaPresse via AP)

Italy has formally asked the United Nations for an inquiry into what happened amid questions about whether the U.N. security arrangements were sufficient for the mission. The U.N. has said the road had been declared “green” by the U.N. and cleared for travel without security escorts or armored vehicles.

The WFP says it is cooperating in the Italian, Congolese and U.N. investigations.

Barrow said the U.N. probe would scrutinize the preparatory meetings leading up to the mission itself as well as whether security protocols were followed.

Zakia Seddiki, wife of the Italian ambassador to the Democratic Republic of Congo Luca Attanasio, holds one of her children at the end of the state funeral for Attanasio and Italian Carabinieri police officer Vittorio Iacovacci, in Rome, Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021. Italy paid tribute Thursday to its ambassador to Congo and his bodyguard who were killed in an attack on a U.N. convoy, honoring them with a state funeral and prayers for peace in Congo and all nations "torn by war and violence." (AP PhotoAndrew Medichini)

“The main focus of the fact-finding mission will be on what security protocols were undertaken, how they were followed and what steps were taken to minimize any sort of risk to any of those who were on this mission,” he said. “And that would include any access to any advance information or contemporary information about the trips.”

He said that while the attack had prompted an automatic security review, the WFP had no plans to alter its humanitarian efforts in Congo. It wasn't immediately clear why Attanasio was inspecting the food program since Italy wasn't funding it.

One of the survivors of the ambush, WFP’s deputy country director Rocco Leone, said it was incumbent on the surviving four members of the mission to establish the truth of what transpired.

Relatives of the Italian ambassador to the Democratic Republic of Congo Luca Attanasio, including his wife Zakia Seddiki, center, walk out of Santa Maria degli Angeli Church after the state funeral of Attanasio and Italian Carabinieri police officer Vittorio Iacovacci, in Rome, Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021. Italy is pressing the United Nations for answers about the attack Monday on a U.N. food aid convoy in Congo that left the young ambassador and his paramilitary police bodyguard dead. (AP PhotoAndrew Medichini)

“I am sure that I speak for everyone in saying that I look forward to the facts behind this tragic incident being soon established, and so that the perpetrators of this heinous attack can be brought to justice,” Leone said in a statement read by Barrow. “It is important that humanitarian operations can continue unhampered to save and change the lives of the many needy people whom we are here to serve.”

Domenica Benedetto, partner of Italian Carabinieri police officer Vittorio Iacovacci, arrives for the state funeral of Iacovacci and the Italian ambassador to the Democratic Republic of Congo Luca Attanasio, in Rome's Santa Maria degli Angeli Church, Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021. Italy is pressing the United Nations for answers about the attack Monday on a U.N. food aid convoy in Congo that left the young ambassador and his paramilitary police bodyguard dead. (AP PhotoAndrew Medichini)

The caskets of Italian ambassador to Democratic Republic of Congo Luca Attanasio and Italian Carabinieri police officer Vittorio Iacovacci are driven away at the end of their funeral, in Rome, Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021. Italy paid tribute Thursday to its ambassador to Congo and his bodyguard who were killed in an attack on a U.N. convoy, honoring them with a state funeral and prayers for peace in Congo and all nations "torn by war and violence." (AP PhotoAndrew Medichini)

The casket of Italian Carabinieri police officer Vittorio Iacovacci, draped in the Italian flag, is driven away at the end of the state funeral for Italian ambassador to the Democratic Republic of Congo Luca Attanasio and Iacovacci, in Rome, Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021. Italy paid tribute Thursday to its ambassador to Congo and his bodyguard who were killed in an attack on a U.N. convoy, honoring them with a state funeral and prayers for peace in Congo and all nations "torn by war and violence." (AP PhotoAndrew Medichini)

People attend the funerals of Italian ambassador to the Democratic Republic of Congo Luca Attanasio and Italian Carabinieri police officer Vittorio Iacovacci, in Rome, Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021. Italy paid tribute Thursday to its ambassador to Congo and his bodyguard who were killed in an attack on a U.N. convoy, honoring them with a state funeral and prayers for peace in Congo and all nations "torn by war and violence." (AP PhotoAndrew Medichini)

A Carabinieri officer attends the funeral of the Italian ambassador to the Democratic Republic of Congo Luca Attanasio and Italian Carabinieri police officer Vittorio Iacovacci, in Rome, Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021. Italy paid tribute Thursday to its ambassador to Congo and his bodyguard who were killed in an attack on a U.N. convoy, honoring them with a state funeral and prayers for peace in Congo and all nations "torn by war and violence." (AP PhotoAndrew Medichini)

Italian Premier Mario Draghi leaves at the end of the funeral of Italian ambassador to the Democratic Republic of Congo Luca Attanasio and Italian Carabinieri police officer Vittorio Iacovacci, in Rome, Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021. Italy paid tribute Thursday to its ambassador to Congo and his bodyguard who were killed in an attack on a U.N. convoy, honoring them with a state funeral and prayers for peace in Congo and all nations "torn by war and violence." (AP PhotoAndrew Medichini)