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3 Americans in alleged Congo coup appear in military court

The military trial of 51 suspects, including three Americans, accused of being involved in a foiled coup attempt in Congo last month has opened in Kinshasa.

Three Americans accused of being involved in last month's attempted coup in Congo appeared in a military court in Kinshasa on Friday, along with dozens of other defendants who were lined up on plastic chairs before the judge on the first day of the hearing.

Six people were killed during the botched coup attempt led by little-known opposition figure Christian Malanga last month, which targeted the presidential palace and a close ally of the President Felix Tshisekedi. Malanga was shot dead soon after live-streaming the attack for resisting arrest, the Congolese army said.

The defendants face a number of charges, many punishable by death, including terrorism, murder and criminal association. The court said there were 53 names on the list, but the names of Christian Malanga and one other person were removed after death certificates were produced.

AMERICANS IN ALLEGED CONGO COUP PLOT FORMED AN UNLIKELY BAND

Alongside Malanga's 21-year-old son Marcel Malanga —who is a US citizen — two other Americans are on trial for their alleged role in the attack. All three requested an interpreter to translate from French to English.

Tyler Thompson Jr, 21, flew to Africa with Marcel for what his family believed was a vacation, with all expenses paid by Malanga. His family said they had played high school football together. Their teammates accused Marcel of offering up to $100,000 to Thompson to join him on a "security job" in Congo.

Thompson was seen in the open-air military court on Friday with a shaved head, sores on his skin, looking nervous and lost as watched the proceedings. His family maintains he had no knowledge of the elder Malanga’s intentions and no plans for political activism and didn’t even plan to enter Congo. They were meant to travel only to South Africa and Eswatini, his stepmother, Miranda Thompson, said.

Marcel’s mother, Brittney Sawyer, has said her son is innocent and had simply followed his father. Sawyer had regularly posted proud family photos on social media, including one in December showing Marcel, a young sister and a toddler hugging in matching Christmas pajamas.

Benjamin Reuben Zalman-Polun, 36, was the third American on trial. He was seen seated in the back row.

Zalman-Polun, who in 2015 pleaded guilty to trafficking marijuana, is reported to have known Christian Malanga through a gold mining company that was set up in Mozambique in 2022, according to an official journal published by Mozambique’s government, and a report by Africa Intelligence newsletter.

The U.S. embassy in Congo did not respond to a request for comment. On Monday, a spokesperson said it had not had access to the prisoners to provide consular services.

A prominent Belgian-Congolese researcher on political and security issues, Jean-Jacques Wondo, also appeared at the court on Friday. It was unclear what evidence was held against him. Human Rights Watch said it had consulted with Wondo for years on research, and his only link to Malanga appears to be an old photo.

"Wondo and others detained should be credibly charged with a criminal offense or immediately released. An arrest based only on a 2016 photo is just not credible," Human Rights Watch said in statement on Friday.

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