British teachers shot dead in Somalia

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A British couple shot dead in Somalia may have been victims of growing Muslim extremism in the area, aid workers said today.

The victims were named as Dick and Enid Eyeington who were working for the Austria-based SOS Kinderdorf children's organisation at the Sheikh Secondary School, 550 miles north of Mogadishu.

Mr Eyeington had worked in Swaziland for 32 years before moving to Somaliland in September 2002 to become headmaster of the school, a spokesman for SOS Kinderdorf said.

His wife also worked as a teacher in the school.

The husband and wife teachers were gunned down by unknown attackers last night as they watched television at their home in Sheikh, part of the self-declared Republic of Somaliland, in the East African country.

There was no obvious motive for the killings, but aid workers in the Muslim country said there had been a backlash against Western nationals in the aftermath of the Iraq War.

Stephen Collens, Africa regional manager for London-based aid group Health Unlimited, said there had been an escalation in attacks on foreign workers in Somalia in recent months.

"Something is up. We're not sure what the heck it is, but it's very worrying," he told PA News.

The boarding school was established during British colonial rule and was mostly destroyed in fighting launched by former dictator Mohammed Siad Barre in 1989.

SOS Kinderdorf International, also known as SOS Children's Villages, had worked to rebuild the school.

"Everybody here is dumbfounded and outraged. These were people dedicated to Somaliland and to rebuilding the education system," said Dr Hussein Bulhan, executive director of the Academy for Peace and Development, who is associated with the War-Torn Societes project.

The murders had caused a "shockwave" in Hargeisa, the capital of Somaliland, he said.

"We are not going to rest until these two killings have been explained."

The deaths come just weeks after an award-winning Italian aid worker was killed in Borama, Somaliland.

Annalena Tonelli, aged 60, was shot on 5 October outside the hospital she founded to treat tuberculosis patients.

A lone gunman shot and killed Tonelli in Borama, a town 580 miles north-west of Mogadishu and police later detained four suspects in connection with the killing.

Mr Eyeington's brother John described him as "do-gooder" who was passionate about teaching and helping people.

"We were very worried when he decided to go to Somalia. We knew it was dangerous, and we thought he'd done enough already. But he was determined, and now he's paid for it with his life.

"It still came as a big shock when he was killed. Why would anyone want to do something so terrible?"

The son of a coal miner, Mr Eyeington grew up in Pelton Fell, County Durham, before going to grammar school and teacher training college.

He married in the early sixties, and has two grown-up children, Louise, a barrister, and Mark, a teacher who still lives in Swaziland.

The family first moved to Africa in 1962, where Mr Eyeington worked as a teacher in Kenya. He later moved to Swaziland where he was headmaster of a school attended by the children of former South African president Nelson Mandela.

His brother said: "Dick was a huge fan of Mandela. He was his hero."

John Eyeington said his brother had been very religious when he was younger and it was this that led him into teaching.

"He always wanted to do the right thing. He was very moralistic and loved to help people."

Somaliland declared its independence from the rest of Somalia in 1991 as civil war raged across much of the southern part of the East African country following the ousting of long-time dictator Mohammed Siad Barre.

In Swaziland, Mr Eyeington had worked as the headmaster of the United World College, an international school, and later the director of SOS in the southern African country.

He had retired, but was persuaded to return to teaching to work at the Sheikh Secondary School in Somaliland.

The couple, who had a four-year contract, lived in a house in the school grounds.