DRC May 19 Attacks Trial.. Two Americans and a Belgian-Congolese Deny Involvement

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May 19

Two Americans and a Belgian-Congolese national appeared before the Kinshasa-Gombe military tribunal among the 51 persons standing trial over attacks that happened on May 19 in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The fifty-one accused are charged with taking part in the assault of the residence of Vital Kamerhe, who is the current president of the National Assembly. The attackers then took refuge in an office in the Palais de la Nation, one of the offices belonging to the current President, Félix Tshisekedi.

On the 8th of July 2024, a military garrison court in Kinshasa-Gombe continued questioning the defendants in a case of an alleged foiled coup attempt on May 19, 2024. The main defendants brought before the court, which was seated in the Ndolo military prison, included American nationals Benjamin Zalman and Tyler Christian Thomson, and a military expert of Belgian Congolese descent, Jean-Jacques Wondo.

The hearing began with the final defendant from the last session, Benjamin Zalman. He disclaimed involvement in the plot, alleging he had been put under threat of death by the alleged ringleader of the gang, Christian Malanga, to follow orders. He said he had known Malanga since 2013 when he first met him at an economic forum in Washington and saw him again in Swaziland, but stressed their interactions were strictly professional.

The next to take the stand was Tyler Christian Thomson, who testified that he had never been trained in the military and only knew two of his co-accused: Marcel Malanga, who was Christian Malanga’s son, and Benjamin Zalman. Thomson further denied flying drones during the attack on Vital Kamerhe’s residence—Kamerhe had been elected president of the National Assembly on May 23—because it was too dark and also on grounds that he refused Malanga’s orders.

The questioning then shifted to one Jean-Jacques Wondo, described as an independent military expert of Belgian Congolese origin. Wondo himself also, after admitting to have had relations with Marcel Malanga in 2016 and 2017, disowned any conspiracy accorded to the coup plot. He said he went to Brazzaville to pay only the last tribute to his late brother.

Since the start of the investigation, some of the defendants have already been charged with a range of crimes, including terrorism, possessing illegal arms, attempted assassination, and financing terrorism. Faced with these testimonies, the hearing was adjourned and is scheduled to meet next on Friday, July 12.

Since June 7th, this tribunal, working inside Kinshasa’s grim military prison, has tried 51 persons, among them three Americans, for what the military has described as an “attempted coup.”


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