DAKAR, Senegal - Armed assailants who identified themselves as disciples of a self-styled prophet attacked the state television station, the airport, and the main military base in Congo's capital in what many feared was a coup attempt early Monday, before being repelled by the country's military, officials and witnesses said.
Lambert Mende, Congo's government spokesman, confirmed the attacks in Kinshasa, saying around 40 people were killed in an exchange of gunfire Monday morning, including 16 at the military base, 16 at the airport, and 8 at the TV station. He also confirmed that shooting had occurred in Lubumbashi, the country's second-largest city, but said calm had returned there and in Kinshasa by Monday afternoon.
Most residents of this sprawling African capital first realized the attack was underway while watching a morning talk show on Radio Television Nationale Congolaise, the state broadcaster. Jessy Kabasele, the presenter on the show Le Panier (The Breadbasket), heard a commotion around 8:10 a.m., including screams. He thought a fistfight had broken out, then saw one of his colleagues running out of the studio.
When he also ran out, he found the TV editing rooms empty. His colleagues were cowering under tables, he said. Before he could hide, more than a dozen men burst in.
"They were wearing civilian clothes, and they were carrying sticks and pieces of wood, and they had a menacing air about them. They came into the studio and started hitting us," he said. "They tied me up with the tie I was wearing." The intruders said they wanted to broadcast a message on behalf of a fringe evangelical preacher in Congo, Joseph Mukungubila, who considers himself a prophet. The signal to the TV station was cut before they could do so.
At roughly the same time, other assailants attacked the airport and a military base, said Pascal Amisi, the deputy chief of staff of Congo's communications ministry.
From an undisclosed location, Mukungubila, 66, confirmed to the Associated Press by telephone that his followers were behind the attacks, but he said his disciples were armed only with sticks and faced the automatic weapons brandished by the country's security forces. He deflected questions about whether the attack was intended as a coup, saying instead that his faithful were acting out of anger after two young boys who belong to Mukungubila's congregation were attacked by security forces in Lubumbashi over the weekend.