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Sunday, September 17, 2006

Italian Nun Shot Dead by Somali Gunmen

MOGADISHU, Somalia - Two gunmen killed an Italian nun and her bodyguard at a hospital Sunday, and a security official for an Islamic militia controlling the capital speculated the attack was linked to worldwide Muslim anger over a speech by Pope Benedict XVI.

The nun, whose identify was not released, was shot in the back four times at the entrance to the Austrian-run S.O.S. Hospital in northern Mogadishu, said Dr. Mohamed Yusuf, a physician at the facility, which serves mothers and children.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack, which came hours after a leading Somali cleric condemned remarks by the pope that quoted a Byzantine emperor who characterized some of the teachings of Islam's founder as "evil and inhuman."

The head of security for the Islamic militia, Yusuf Mohamed Siad, said one man had been arrested and a second was being hunted. He said the killing might have stemmed from the uproar over the pope but stressed he didn't know for sure.

"They could be people annoyed by the pope's speech, which angered all Muslims in the world, or they could have been having something to do with S.O.S," he said. "We will have to clarify this through our investigation."

A Vatican spokesman called the nun's slaying "a horrible episode," the Italian news agency ANSA said.

"Let's hope that it will be an isolated fact," the Rev. Federico Lombardi said. He expressed hope Muslim anger would ease following Benedict's explanation Sunday that the quotation he cited did not reflect his personal opinion about Islam.

The nun, who spoke fluent Somali, was believed to be around 60 and had been working at the hospital since 2002, people at the hospital said, insisting on anonymity for fear of reprisals. She taught at the hospital and also looked after children, said one doctor.

Her body was being flown to Nairobi, Kenya, before being returned to Italy, he added.

Like many foreigners, she traveled with a bodyguard in Somalia, which sank into anarchy after warlords overthrew the country's longtime dictator in 1991.

But attacks on foreigners have continued.

In June an award-winning Swedish journalist, Martin Adler, was fatally shot while covering a demonstration in Mogadishu. Veteran Italian aid worker Annalena Tonelli was shot dead in 2003 in the breakaway republic of Somaliland in the north.

Islamic fundamentalists have stepped into the political and security vacuum, seizing control of Mogadishu and much of Somalia's south, imposing strict religious rule.

A U.N.-backed acting government was established two years ago, but it has failed to assert any power outside its base in Baidoa, 150 miles from Mogadishu.

The Islamic militia's courts are credited with bringing a semblance of order, but the West fears the emergence of a Taliban-style regime.

On Sunday, a Somali cleric strongly criticized Benedict's speech.

"The pope's statement at this time was not only wrong but irresponsible as well," said Sheik Nor Barud, deputy leader of the Somali Muslim Scholars Association.

"Both the Pope and the Byzantine emperor he quoted are ignorant of Islam and its noble prophet," he told journalists at a news conference.
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