A group of suspected Islamists killed 16 people and burned down a Catholic church during an attack on a village in the Democratic Republic of the Congo on Sunday.
According to Christophe Munyanderu of the Convention for the Respect of Human Rights, a total of 13 civilians and three soldiers succumbed to fatal wounds when the suspected terrorists opened fire in the village of Ndalya in the DRC's northeastern Ituri province, Reuters reports.
Four attackers were killed when soldiers fought them and drove them back.
Army spokesperson Jules Ngongo Tshikudi claimed the attack was carried out by the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), a terrorist group that initially existed in Uganda but has expanded its operations in the DRC, particularly in the country's eastern side.
"For the moment our troops are occupying the village after this attack which cost civilian lives," Tshikudi said.
The ADF is being linked to the Islamic State, which claimed responsibility for some of the group's activities in the region. The U.S. State Department reported that the group established ties with the Islamic State in 2018.
In January, the ADF killed 46 people in Ambedi village, also located in Ituri province. The victims, who belonged to the ethnic Pygmy group, were either shot or decapitated with machetes. Most of them were women and children, CNN reports.
In October last year, the ADF massacred 19 civilians in Mamove in Eastern Congo. Six of those who were killed were members of the United Methodist Church. The slain church members were on their way to a meeting when ADF attacked them on the road.
The United Nations said the ADF's attacks "may amount to crimes against humanity and war crimes." The terrorist group killed more than 1,000 people in the DRC in intensified attacks in the area between January 2019 and June 2020.
A U.N. report states that in most of these widespread and systematic attacks, it was evident that the ADF showed no intention to leave any survivor. There were instances when all the members of a household were hacked to death.
The DRC falls at number 40 of Open Doors' 2021 World Watch List of the 50 countries where Christians are most persecuted. The ADF is the primary group responsible for the persecution of Christians in eastern DRC.
ADF attacks have made violence a "huge risk" for Christian communities in the places where the militant group operates, according to Open Doors. Such attacks have displaced more than a million people in the region. Furthermore, believers constantly face the risk of being kidnapped.
Illia Djadi, Open Doors spokesperson, said the ADF's attacks on Christian communities are driven by "Islamic expansionist agenda."
"These predominantly Christian communities are attacked by an Islamic extremist group with a clear Islamic expansionist agenda," Djadi said, referring to ADF, the International Christian Concern reports.
He emphasized the need to monitor the militant group's activities in the area.
"We need to pay attention to these events because what is happening in eastern DRC, the killing of innocent civilians on an almost daily basis, is an underreported tragedy," he said.