By Erin Conway-Smith
3:31 PM PST, December 30, 2013
JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — A series of attacks in the Democratic Republic of Congo's capital left dozens of people dead Monday as the army fought off assailants identified as followers of a disgruntled religious leader.
The coordinated attacks, at first thought to be a coup attempt, targeted a state television station, the airport and a military base in Kinshasa, the capital. Gunfire was also reported in Lubumbashi, the country's second-largest city and capital of mineral-rich Katanga province.
Assailants wielding machetes and automatic weapons stormed the headquarters of Radio Television Nationale Congolaise and briefly took control, forcing two presenters to read a statement during a live morning news show that criticized President Joseph Kabila and pledged to free the Congolese people "from the slavery of the Rwandan."
The attackers said they were followers of Paul Joseph Mukungubila Mutombo, also known as Gideon, "the Prophet," an evangelical Christian leader who unsuccessfully ran for president in 2006.
Mukungubila had recently accused the president of being too close to Paul Kagame, president of neighboring Rwanda, and criticized Kabila's decision to make peace with Tutsi rebels in eastern Congo.
Lambert Mende, a spokesman for the Congolese government, said the "terrorists" behind the attacks had been defeated and the situation was under control.
Mende said 46 people were killed in the exchanges of gunfire early Monday, including 16 at the military barracks in Kinshasa, 16 at the airport and eight at the TV station.
Kabila, who is from eastern Congo, has ruled since 2001, after the assassination of his father, Laurent Kabila, who took power in 1997 after overthrowing Mobutu Sese Seko.
The U.S. Embassy in Kinshasa said it had received "multiple reports of armed engagements and fighting around" the capital and asked U.S. citizens not to travel around the city until further notice.
Flights to Kinshasa were diverted Monday morning to other airports in the region, including to nearby Brazzaville, capital of the neighboring Republic of Congo, as well as farther afield to Johannesburg, South Africa.
Mukungubila told the Associated Press that his devotees were behind the attacks and claimed that the Congolese government had tried to kill him on several occasions.
"This morning they again came to attack my house, and so we said enough," he told the AP.
"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."
A statement purported to be from Mukungubila, posted on Facebook, similarly claimed that his followers had been harassed and attacked by the army.
Conway-Smith is a special correspondent.
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