Congo names third American in foiled coup plot as mourners gather in Utah to remember plot leader

Congo’s army spokesman on Tuesday released the name of the third American involved in a foiled coup plot in Kinshasa, as relatives in Utah gathered to mourn Christian Malanga, the eccentric leader of the brazen and ill-fated attack on the presidential palace during weekend.

Brig. Gen. Sylvain Ekenge told The Associated Press that the third American was Taylor Thomson. It was not immediately clear whether Thomson was among those arrested or killed on Sunday morning following the attack on the palace and another on the residence of a close ally of President Felix Tshisekedi.

Authorities were still trying to unravel how Marcel Malanga went from playing high school football in Utah to allegedly trying to overthrow the leader of one of Africa’s largest countries.

“My son is innocent,” his mother, Brittney Sawyer, wrote in an email to The Associated Press on Monday, without elaborating.

Sawyer had regularly posted proud family photos on social media, including one in December that showed Marcel, a little sister and a toddler cuddling in matching Christmas pajamas. In 2020, she posted photos of Marcel lifting weights and dancing during the COVID lockdown.

In a Facebook post early Monday, Sawyer angrily wrote that her son had followed his father. “This was an innocent child who followed his father. I’m so tired of all the videos being posted everywhere and sent to me. God will take care of you!”

A video that circulated on social media over the weekend showed his son next to a bloodied white man, whose identity was unclear, both covered in dust and surrounded by Congolese soldiers. Marcel has his hands raised and a scared expression on his face.

On Monday, at the home of Malanga’s mother, Chantal Malanga, in West Jordan, relatives gathered to mourn the deceased leader. A steady stream of friends arrived with plates of food and to offer their condolences.

Sydney, a cousin of Christian Malanga who answered the door, told AP that the family felt “heartbroken” and “very raw” after learning of his death. They were discussing plans for a possible funeral in Utah, she said, without elaborating.

It was unclear how Malanga had recruited the other Americans for his ill-fated attack on the Congolese state. His connection to Zalman-Polun, who in 2015 pleaded guilty to marijuana trafficking, appeared to be through a gold mining company that was created in Mozambique in 2022, according to an official journal published by the Mozambican government and a report by the Africa Intelligence newsletter. .

American businessman Cole Ducey, also mentioned as a mining company official in the Mozambique newspaper, said he met Christian Malanga when the two were introduced by a mutual acquaintance a few years ago and briefly explored investing together in mining concessions in Mozambique. Ducey said he also met Zalman-Polun, whom Malanga had met in Washington, DC.

Ducey said they never discussed the political situation in Congo or Malanga’s desire to be part of the government there. Ducey said he ultimately decided not to do business with the two men.

“We just looked at a couple of mining concessions in Mozambique,” Ducey said of Malanga. “I didn’t know him very well, but from what I gathered he wasn’t very smart.”

He said he had no contact with Malanga and Zalman-Polun in about two years and was shocked to read about their alleged involvement in a violent coup attempt.

“I had nothing to do with this and I was not involved in any way,” said Ducey, who was in Eswatini on Monday, referring to Congolese media reports naming him among the attackers.

The alleged coup attempt began at the Kinshasa residence of Vital Kamerhe, a federal legislator and candidate for president of the Congo’s National Assembly. His guards killed the attackers, authorities said.

Meanwhile, Malanga live-streamed a video from the presidential palace in which he is seen surrounded by several people in military uniforms wandering around in the middle of the night. He was later killed while resisting arrest, Congolese authorities said.

Congolese officials have not commented on how the attackers were able to enter.

Dino Mahtani, who worked in Congo for years as a journalist and then a U.N. political adviser between 2015 and 2018, told the AP that Malanga had likely been deceived or betrayed.

“It’s really hard to imagine how 20 or 30 guys thought that by storming the presidential palace when no one was there at 4 in the morning they could somehow take over the Congolese state,” he said. “They could be external conspirators, but given their previous close relationship with at least one of Tshiskedi’s current military commanders, there is some possibility that the plot was known internally.”

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Donari reported from Dakar, Senegal; Schoenbaum of West Jordan, Utah; and Biesecker of Washington.