The failed coup attempt in Congo was led by a former Salt Lake City resident

Christian Malanga was reportedly killed in an attack near the presidential palace.

(Samy Ntumba Shambuyi | AP) Congolese security forces secure the streets after the Congolese army said it “foiled a coup” and arrested the perpetrators following a gun battle in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, on Sunday, May 19, 2024. Six people were killed on Sunday were killed during brutal attacks in the Congolese capital Kinshasa. Two guards of a close ally of the Congolese president and four of the perpetrators of the attacks, including their leader, were killed, Congolese army spokesman Brig. General Sylvain Ekenge told The Associated Press on Monday, May 20, 2024.

Nairobi, Kenya • Congo’s army said Sunday it had foiled a coup attempt involving foreigners, hours after a gun battle near the presidential palace that left at least three people dead.

In a brief statement on state television, army spokesman Brig. General Sylvain Ekenge initially gave few details about the alleged coup in the capital Kinshasa, other than saying the plotters and their leader had been “inactivated.”

But he later told The Associated Press that three Americans were among the perpetrators, and the United States ambassador to Congo, Lucy Tamlyn, publicly acknowledged that American citizens may have been involved.

The United States will cooperate “to the fullest extent” with Congolese authorities “in investigating these criminal acts and holding accountable all American citizens involved,” she said on the social network X.

Her statement came hours after videos circulated widely on social media showing a white man with a bloodied face sitting at the feet of Congolese soldiers — one of three Americans accused by the military of involvement.

President Felix Tshisekedi, who was re-elected for a second term after a chaotic vote in December, was unharmed in the incident. But its brief and seemingly confused nature, as well as its many incongruous details, left many Congolese confused on Sunday and led to intense speculation about who was behind it, or whether it was even a genuine coup attempt.

A wave of military takeovers in Central and West Africa in recent years has caused unrest in Washington DC as they have undermined democracy in the region and given Russia the opportunity to increase its influence. In Niger, where the army seized power in August, the government is putting pressure on the United States to withdraw its troops from bases where Russian personnel have arrived.

Congo is a focus of U.S. policy in Africa because of its large reserves of cobalt, a key mineral in electric vehicle production. China owns or controls most of the cobalt-producing sites in Congo, a source of concern for the Biden administration.

But while most recent coups in the region have been led by senior military officers from those countries, Sunday’s alleged coup in Kinshasa appeared to have been led by an obscure opposition politician from the United States, and appeared to have little chance of success. .

It started around 4:30 a.m. on Sunday when a group of armed men attacked the Kinshasa residence of Vital Kamerhe, a lawmaker and candidate for the presidency of the National Assembly, which is located just over a mile from the presidential palace.

A gunfight broke out in which two police officers and an attacker were killed, a spokesperson for Kamerhe and separately the Japanese ambassador to Congo said on social media.

The attackers then moved towards the presidential palace, Congolese news media reported. At the same time, Christian Malanga, an exiled opponent of the Congolese government who heads a small opposition party, posted a livestream video in which he appeared to be leading the attack.

The video, which The New York Times could not independently verify, showed Malanga, 40, surrounded by men in military uniforms, some with American flags on their vests. “Felix, you’re gone,” he said. “We’ll come get you.”

But when the attackers reached the nearby presidential palace, soldiers intercepted and arrested them, according to reports from the military and local media. Images of Malanga’s body later circulated and Ekenge told the AP that he was killed while resisting arrest.

The names of the suspects were not immediately released, but images on social media provided clues.

In addition to the images of a bloodied white man on the ground, sitting next to someone identified as Malanga’s son, an American, images of the passport of another American, Benjamin Reuben Zalman-Polun, allegedly involved in the episode also circulated would be. News reports previously identified him as a cannabis entrepreneur involved in gold mining with Malanga.

Dino Mahtani, a former United Nations investigator in Congo, said Congolese authorities told him in 2018 that they suspected Malanga of a plot to assassinate the previous president, Joseph Kabila.

Tshisekedi did not appear to be in immediate danger on Sunday; He is known to live miles away from the presidential palace, at his residence in another part of the city.

A website in Malanga’s name said his family settled in Salt Lake City in the 1990s as part of a refugee resettlement program. He participated in the U.S. Army Junior ROTC, it said.

He returned to Congo in 2011 to run for political office, but was arrested “on false charges” and held for several weeks by police officers who beat him, the report said.

A year later, he returned to the United States, where he founded the United Congolese Party, “a grassroots platform uniting the Congolese diaspora around the world and opposing the current Congolese dictatorship,” according to the site.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.