Three Americans Accused of Being CIA Agents Arrested in Congo in Failed Coup after Three People Are Killed Outside Presidential Palace in Shootout

Footage on social media showed a passport allegedly seized from one of the Americans bearing the name Benjamin Zalman-Polun, a 36-year-old born in Maryland.

  • Updated

Three Americans have been arrested for their alleged involvement in a failed coup in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Video shows what is believed to be two of the men pleading for mercy on the ground as government forces surrounded them following a shootout in the capital Kinshasa on Sunday.

Local media reports suggested that the arrested men were CIA operatives, although the US ambassador in the city tried to distance the US from any involvement. "I am shocked by the events this morning and very worried by the reports of American citizens allegedly being involved," Lucy Tamlyn, the US ambassador to the DRC, posted on X, formerly Twitter.

American Coup in Congo

American coup
Two men believed to be Americans involved in a coup seen being surrounded by Congolese forces X

"Rest assured that we are cooperating with authorities in DRC to the fullest extent possible, as they investigate these criminal acts and hold accountable any American citizen involved," Tamlyn added.

The United Nations' stabilization mission in the DRC said that its chief, Bintou Keita, condemned the incidents in the strongest terms and offered her support to the Congolese authorities in a post on social media.

The DR Congo military identified the coup leader as Christian Malanga, 41, a US-educated former refugee who was a "naturalized American" and had been "definitively neutralized" by the security forces. His son Marcel was among those accused of participating and was seized by the military during their operation.

Footage on social media showed a passport allegedly seized from one of the Americans bearing the name Benjamin Zalman-Polun, a 36-year-old born in Maryland. Zalman-Polun reportedly has a background as a cannabis entrepreneur and had been previously linked to Malanga.

The military said that it thwarted the "attempted coup" involving "foreigners and Congolese" near the offices of President Felix Tshisekedi in Kinshasa.

Military Makes Statement

American Coup
A passport seen seized from one of the three American accused of being CIA agents X

It happened in the early hours of the morning outside the home of Economy Minister Vital Kamerhe, in the Gombe area in the north of the capital, near the Palais de la Nation that houses the president's offices, a spokesman said.

"An attempted coup d'etat has been stopped by the defense and security forces," said General Sylvain Ekenge in a message broadcast on national television.

"Around 50, including three American citizens - were arrested and are currently undergoing interrogation by the specialized services of the Armed Forces," Ekenge told Reuters.

Shots were also heard near the Palais de la Nation at the time of the coup attempt, according to multiple sources.

Later on Sunday, Ekenge said a British man was part of the group involved in the operation.

Malanga moved to Salt Lake City as a 15-year-old refugee with his family in 1998 but returned to Congo in 2006, where he served in the military and stood for parliament in 2011, only to be arrested two days before the poll.

After returning to the US in 2012, he attempted to build his United Congolese Party in exile and was accused by Congolese intelligence of plotting the assassination of then-President Joseph Kabila.

Malanga's son Marcel spent much of his childhood in the US and was active on social media as recently as March when he filmed himself brandishing thousands of dollars in cash on TikTok.

He presented himself as a crusader against corruption in the country of nearly 100 million people and posted a video to Facebook just hours before the attack, showing his group of heavily armed paramilitaries.