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News / Nation & World

Family of American caught in Congo failed coup says their son went to Africa on vacation

By HANNAH SCHOENBAUM and JESSICA DONATI, Associated Press
Published: May 23, 2024, 1:45pm

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (AP) — The family of an American caught up in a failed coup attempt in Congo said their son, Tyler Thompson, was in Africa on vacation with family friends and had not previously engaged in political activism, in a statement provided to The Associated Press.

“We are stunned and heartbroken by the videos we have seen from the coup attempt,” his stepmother, Miranda Thompson, said in a message on X, formerly know as Twitter. “We have no idea how he got wrapped up in this situation, which is completely out of character for him. We are certain he did not go to Africa with plans for political activism.”

Thompson was among at least two other Americans who were named by the Congolese army as part of a failed effort to overthrow the government in Kinshasa in the early hours of Sunday morning under an eccentric, self-exiled leader, Christian Malanga. The two other Americans allegedly involved were a convicted marijuana trafficker, Benjamin Reuben Zalman-Polun, and Malanga’s Utah-born son, Marcel, 21, who was arrested by Congolese forces.

Malanga, the alleged leader, was shot dead after resisting arrest, the Congolese army said. In all, six people were killed in the attack on the presidential palace and another on the residence of a close ally of President Felix Tshisekedi.

On Wednesday, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken condemned the attack in a call with Tshisekedi and offered help from the U.S. with the investigation, according to a summary of the call.

The stepmother said Thompson was not politically engaged and was excited to see the world with family friends. He had played high school football with Marcel Malanga in the Salt Lake City suburb of West Jordan and traveled to Congo with his former teammate.

“He is a good kid, a hard worker and a respectful young man. We’re so lost as to how he ended up in this mess,” Thompson’s stepmother said.

The U.S. Embassy in Congo said Thursday that it was still waiting for the Congolese government to provide evidence that the arrested individuals were Americans before it could provide consular services to them.

The Congolese government has not given a date for when the suspects will appear in court.

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