A makeshift bomb exploded inside a Catholic church in the city of Beni in DR Congo's conflict-plagued east on Sunday, injuring two women just an hour before a children's confirmation ceremony was due to be held.
The attack marks the first time a Catholic building has been targeted in the region, which has declared a "state of siege" due to rising violence from the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) militia accused of killing thousands.
The head of police in Beni's town hall Narcisse Muteba Kashale told AFP that the explosion occurred at 6:00 am (0400 GMT), and that the homemade bomb had been "set up for an ambush".
Beni's vicar general Laurent Sondirya said two women were injured in the blast, which went off shortly before crowds were due to start gathering for the confirmation ceremony.
"They were targeting a large crowd because the ceremony would bring together children, their parents and the faithful," he told AFP.
The mass to "administer the sacrament of confirmation would not be postponed", he added.
Traces of blood could seen at the entrance to the church in the aftermath of the explosion, an AFP reporter said, while shards of glass where scattered inside and the sound equipment was destroyed.
"I had just entered the church, I hadn't even managed to sit down, I heard 'Boom'... Blood started flowing from my mouth," one of the injured women, Antoinette Kavira, told AFP from her hospital bed.
"I lost four teeth and was injured in the arms," she added.
The second victim still in shock after being wounded in the leg.
The explosion was heard around the Emmanuel Butsili parish in a working-class neighbourhood of Beni, witnesses told AFP.
Experts from the UN's MONUSCO mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo went to the scene and secured the perimeter.
Parish priest Isidore Kambale said a security commission had been set up. "We have to be vigilant," he told AFP.
- Second blast in 24 hours -
The latest violence came just a day after another bomb exploded next to a petrol station on the outskirts of Beni without causing any damage.
Muteba Kashale said the "home-made bomb was hidden under a truck's trailer when it exploded, but my services thought it was a puncture.
"But this morning I saw there were shards exactly like those in the church."
Catholicism is the city's largest religion and it is the first time one of the church's building has been hit in Beni territory, where the ADF militia is accused of having killed 6,000 people since 2013, according to the Catholic episcopate.
The ADF were suspected of kidnapping three priests from Beni in 2014 -- they remain missing and no one has claimed the abduction.
Two imams in Beni known for speaking out against the ADF violence were shot dead in May this year, one inside the city's mosque and the other after evening prayers.
The ADF is the deadliest of an estimated 120 armed militia groups in the mineral-rich east of the vast central African country, many of them a legacy of two regional wars from 1996 to 2003.
Historically a Ugandan Islamist group now based in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo since 1995, it is accused of having killing hundreds of civilians since launching operations from a base in the jungle around Beni in November 2019.
Beni is in the North Kivu province, which along with neighbouring Ituri province, was placed under a "state of siege" on May 6 by President Felix Tshisekedi in a bid to clamp down on militia violence in the east.