A suicide bomber has attacked a restaurant in the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s eastern city of Beni, killing at least five people and himself.
Officials blamed the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) for Saturday’s attack. The militia is one of the deadliest armed groups in the region and is claimed by the ISIL (ISIS) group as its central Africa arm.
“The suicide bomber, prevented by security guards from entering a crowded bar, activated the bomb at the entrance of the bar,” the regional governor’s spokesman, General Ekenge Sylvain, said in a statement.
Six people died in the blast, and 14 were injured, including two local officials, he added.
The ADF did not immediately claim responsibility for the attack.
The AFP news agency said its correspondent saw the remains of three bodies at the site of the explosion, the In Box restaurant. The remains of tables, chairs, bottles and glasses were scattered across the blast site.
One city hall source told AFP that two children were among the dead, as well as two local officials.
More than 30 people were celebrating Christmas there when the bomb went off, two witnesses told AFP.
Rachel Magali had been at the restaurant-bar for about three hours with her sister-in-law and several others when she heard a loud noise outside.
“Suddenly we saw black smoke surrounding the bar and people started to cry,” she told The Associated Press news agency. “We rushed to the exit where I saw people lying down. There were green plastic chairs scattered everywhere and I also saw heads and arms no longer attached. It was really horrible.”
A police vehicle took the wounded to a nearby medical centre, which was immediately sealed off.
Beni’s mayor, Narcisse Muteba Kashale, earlier told local radio that a bomb had exploded in the city centre. “For safety, I’m asking the population to stay home,” the mayor said.
Kashale, who is also a police colonel, said at least two of the victims were children. Wounded survivors were taken to the local hospital, he said.
Police spokesperson Nasson Murara said that officers fired live rounds to disperse an angry crowd that attempted to bar investigators from accessing the scene of the explosion. No one was injured, he said.
Beni, near the DRC’s eastern border with Uganda, has been the site of regular clashes between the Congolese army and the ADF.
In June, three bombs rocked the east of the country, with authorities warning they had reports more attacks were being planned.
In late November, the DRC and Uganda launched a joint operation against the ADF in the east of the country after Congolese troops struggled for months to quell bloody ADF attacks.