Italy’s ambassador to the Democratic Republic of Congo was killed on Monday in an attack on a United Nations convoy in the east of the country.
Luca Attanasio was gunned down alongside Vittorio Iacovacci, an Italian military police officer, and their Congolese driver, who has not been named, when their World Food Programme convoy was stopped on a road outside Goma.
Sergio Mattarella, the Italian president, condemned the "cowardly attack".
"The Italian republic is in mourning for these servants of the state who lost their lives," he said in a statement.
Luigi Di Maio, the Italian foreign minister, left a European Union summit in Brussels early to return to Rome and promised an investigation.
Marie-Therese Tumba Nzeza, the DRC's foreign minister, offered Italy condolences and said her country would "do everything to find out who is behind this despicable murder".
The three men were travelling in a two-vehicle convoy without an armed escort to visit a WFP school food program in Rutshuru, 40 miles north of Goma, when the attack took place.
Carly Nzanzu Kasivita, the governor of North Kivu, said they were stopped about 15 kilometers outside the regional capital by six attackers who fired warning shots before taking the survivors into the bush in an apparent kidnap attempt.
“That’s when a patrol of Virunga National Park rangers intervened, and managed to free four people. Unfortunately before they ran away the assailants shot the ambassador and his bodyguard and they killed a Congolese driver at the start of the attack,” he told the BBC World Service.
The WFP said in a statement that it would cooperate with Congolese authorities on an investigation and that the road had previously been cleared for travel without security escorts.
Attanasio, 43, had been Italy’s head of mission in Kinshasa since 2017 and was made ambassador in 2019.
He had previously served in Switzerland, Morocco and Nigeria.
Emanuela Del Re, a former deputy foreign minister, described him as "a man gifted with uncommon courage, humanity and professionalism" who had had a great knowledge of African affairs and an “infectious smile.”
The UNHCR says more than 2,000 civilians were killed in the DRC’s eastern provinces of North and South Kivu and Ituri last year.
Dozens of armed and rebel groups are active in and around the Virunga national park, a vast wildlife reserve along Congo’s borders with Rwanda and Uganda that is home to a quarter of the world’s remaining mountain gorillas.
They include a Rwandan Hutu militia called the FDLR, as well as the M23, also known as the Congolese Revolutionary Army.
The groups have killed more than 200 park rangers and frequently kidnapped foreign tourists in attacks stretching back over a decade.
Attanasio is the second European ambassador to have been killed while serving in the DRC.
In January 1993, French ambassador Philippe Bernard was killed during riots in Kinshasa sparked by troops opposing dictator Mobutu Sese Seke.