Security forces in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) have killed at least 46 fighters and returned calm to the capital, after armed men opened fire on multiple sites across Kinshasa, government officials say.
The assailants launched a coordinated attack on the city’s airport, a military camp and the state television station RTNC on Monday in what appeared to be an attempt to seize power by supporters of Paul Joseph Mukungubila, a religious leader.
DRC troops killed 46 fighters and detained another 20, while one government soldier was also killed, according to a government spokesman.
“We were subjected to well-orchestrated attacks in Kinshasa, Lubumbashi and Kindu,” Lambert Mende, a government spokesman, told AFP news agency on Monday, adding that the situation was under control.
Mende said the “aggression” on the eve of New Year festivities was aimed at terrorising Kinshasa citizens.
Speaking to AP news agency on Monday from an undisclosed location, Mukungubila, an evangelical Christian pastor who has been critical of the government, said his supporters were behind the attacks, but that they had been armed only with sticks.
He said they were angry after the military attacked his residence in the early hours of Monday morning.
“My disciples were angry. And they took what they could which was a bunch of sticks. My disciples were never armed. They went to show what we are capable of. I am a man of peace, and this was not a premeditated action,” Mukungubila told AP.
Before transmission was shut down at RTNC, two attackers appeared on camera to deliver what appeared to be a political message against President Joseph Kabila’s government.
“Gideon Mukungubila has come to free you from the slavery of the Rwandan,” said the message, according to a Reuters news agency reporter who saw a tape of the transmission.
One of the candidates who challenged Kabila in 2006 elections, Mukungubila recently expressed bitterness at the way the country was being run.
A letter written by Mukungubila, which was distributed by youth in Lubumbabshi on Sunday, accused Kabila, who is from eastern DRC near the border with Rwanda, of being a Rwandan national, and said that a foreigner cannot head the country.
“We don’t know for sure who they are but the group that attacked the TV station said they were representing Prophet Mukungubila,” said Pascal Amisi, the deputy chief of staff of Congo’s communications minister.
Jessy Kabasela, the presenter of a morning talk show on RTNC, said the attackers tied him up in the studio on Monday by the tie he was wearing.
“They were wearing civilian clothes, and they were carrying sticks, and pieces of wood, and they had a menacing air about them. They came into the studio and started hitting us.”
Patrice Chitera, a journalist in Kinshasa, told Al Jazeera: “We saw hundreds of locals, neighbours of the TV station, coming to cheer for the army after it defeated the attackers. At the moment, the situation is calm. It’s only soldiers who are deployed all around many strategic points in the town.”
Steve Wembi, another journalist based in Kinshasa, told Al Jazeera that 65 journalists were rescued by the army.