Democratic Republic of Congo has said it has arrested a Middle Eastern national for alleged ties to an Islamist militia in the east of DRC, potentially the first time a non-African fighter has been found working with the group.
The Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), an Islamist armed group led by Ugandans, has been blamed for dozens of massacres with hatchets and firearms in the last three years, mostly in remote villages.
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In 2019 the ADF's leadership pledged allegiance to Islamic State (IS), which has in turn claimed dozens of the ADF's attacks, although United Nations experts say they have not found conclusive evidence that IS has control over ADF operations.
Congo's government spokesman Patrick Muyaya confirmed the man's arrest.
"The person arrested is of Jordanian nationality. He was taken back to Kinshasa for further interrogation," Muyaya told Reuters.
According to documents seen by Reuters, however, the man was carrying a Kosovo residence permit, identifying him as a 40-year-old Saudi Arabian national. Reuters was not immediately able to confirm the document's authenticity.
The man is believed to have been in charge of the militia's drones, and was arrested on September 18 in Makisabo, near the city of Beni, North Kivu province, where the ADF are active, according to internal army reports seen by Reuters.
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Former ADF fighters have told United Nations investigators the group has used at least two drones for surveillance.
"If this individual is confirmed to have been sent by the Islamic State's central leadership, it would also be the first clear indication that the Islamic state is providing their Congo affiliate with direct technical assistance," said Laren Poole of Bridgeway Foundation, a U.S.-based thinktank that studies the group.
In May, the government introduced martial law to pacify the country's mineral-rich east, where the ADF and over 100 other armed groups operate.
President Felix Tshisekedi told the UN General Assembly on Tuesday the move had succeeded in killing hundreds of militiamen and dismantling several weapons and mineral-trafficking networks.
However, the number of civilians killed in militia attacks has largely remained unchanged, analysis by rights watchdog Human Rights Watch has shown.