A suicide bomber killed at least five people at a crowded night spot in the city of Beni in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo Saturday, local officials reported.
The blast is said to have occurred at the INBOX bar where people were celebrating Christmas, according to a security official in Beni
Officials blamed the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) militia, one of the deadliest armed groups in the region and claimed by the Islamic State group as its central Africa arm.
“The suicide bomber, prevented by security from gaining access to the bar, packed with clients, activated the bomb at the entrance,” said a statement from military officials running North Kivu province.
Another 13 people were being treated for their wounds in hospitals, the statement added, describing the death toll as provisional.
Shortly after the blast, Narcisse Muteba, the colonel running the city during the state of emergency in the east of the country, had called on residents to return to their homes for their own safety.
An AFP 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.
“I was sitting there,” local radio presenter Nicolas Ekila told AFP. “There was a motorbike parked there. Suddenly the motorbike took off, then there was a deafening noise.”
A police vehicle took the wounded to a nearby medical centre, which was immediately sealed off.
– Operations against the ADF –
On June 27 in Beni, a blast from a improvised bomb at a Catholic church wounded two women, the same day a man died when the bomb he was carrying went off.
The day before, another device blew up near a service station without doing any damage. The authorities blamed those attacks on the ADF.
Beni, in North Kivu province on the DRC’s eastern border with Uganda, has been the site of regular clashes between the army and the ADF.
North Kivu and neighbouring Ituri province have been under a “state of siege” since May, an emergency measure in which the military has taken effective control but which so far has not succeeded in stopping the attacks from the armed militia.
On November 30, the DRC and Uganda launched a joint operation against the ADF in the east of the country to try to quell the bloody ADF attacks. Uganda has also blamed the group for a string of attacks on its territory.
The ADF was historically a Ugandan rebel coalition whose biggest group comprised Muslims opposed to Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni.
But it established itself in eastern DRC in 1995, becoming the deadliest of scores of outlawed forces in the troubled region.
It has been blamed for the killings of thousands of civilians over the past decade in the DRC, as well as for bombings in the Ugandan capital Kampala.
The Islamic State group presents the ADF as its regional branch — the Islamic State Central Africa Province, or ISCAP.
Meanwhile Uganda on Thursday charged 15 people with offences including terrorism and aiding terrorism related to their alleged role in bombings in the country’s capital and elsewhere in October and November that left at least nine people dead.
In the early hours of Nov. 16 a suicide bomber blew himself up at the entrance of a police station in the centre of Kampala. Three minutes later two other suicide bombers detonated along a road that leads to the parliament.
Those bombings killed at least seven people including the bombers and injured dozens.
At least two people were killed in two other bombings in October, one at a restaurant and another on a bus.
Islamic State (IS), which is allied with the rebel Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), claimed responsibility for the Nov. 16 attack and the restaurant attack.
According to a charge sheet , the 15 people, among other accusations, “intentionally and unlawfully, manufactured, delivered, placed and detonated an improvised explosive device … with intent to cause death or serious bodily injuries,” for the purposes of influencing the government or intimidating the public.
Originally a Ugandan group, the ADF has operated in the dense forests in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo across the border with Uganda for more than three decades. The group began killing civilians in large numbers in 2014.
The attacks in October and November prompted the Ugandan military to deploy in eastern Congo in late November to take on the Islamist fighters.
The suspects were remanded until Jan. 13, when they will appear in court again.
On March 11 this year, the United States placed the ADF on its list of “terrorist groups” affiliated with IS jihadists.