BENI – A senior Muslim cleric in eastern DR Congo was on Saturday evening gunned down during prayers in Beni city’s main mosque, government authorities as well as human rights activists, have separately confirmed.
The gunman shot Sheikh Ali Amini during evening prayers on Saturday and then fled, a human rights activist said.
The cleric was a strong critic of Islamic militancy in the region, several sources revealed.
Eastern DR Congo has been badly hit by instability, including attacks claimed by the Islamic State (IS) group.
Many armed groups operate in eastern DR Congo, a legacy of the conflicts that gripped the region in the 1990s.
According to sources, Sheikh Amini’s killing during the holy month of Ramadan has caused a great deal of shock in Beni, a city with a population of about 200,000.
A prominent human rights activist in Beni, Stewart Muhindo, said this was the first such killing in the city in as many years.
“It happened at 19:15 during evening prayers. Shots were fired inside the mosque hitting the imam. The gunman got away as he had an accomplice outside the mosque waiting on a motorbike,” said Muhindo as he spoke to the media.
While it is unclear who was behind the attack, much of the violence in the area is carried out by a Muslim rebel group – the Allied Democratic Forces –ADF, according to sources.
IS has taken credit for some ADF attacks, but it is unclear how strong the links are between the two groups.
The ADF was formed more than 20 years ago in neighbouring Uganda to fight alleged discrimination against Muslims. It relocated to eastern DR Congo after Uganda People’s Defence Forces drove it out from its bases in the Mt. Rwenzori areas.
The former ADF supreme leader, Sheikh Jamil Mukulu was tracked, intercepted and arrested in Tanzani in 2015, before he was repatriated to Uganda to face harges of terrorism, murder, aggravated robbery, attempted murder and being a member of a terrorist group. He had reportedly commanded members of the Allied Democratic Forces to acquire firearms, training and funding for dissident activities.
The ADF recently increased attacks on civilians after DR Congo’s army launched an offensive against it in October 2019.
Nearly 200 people have been killed by the ADF since January, according to the UN.