'Very high possibility' Italian nun's killing linked to Pope controversy

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The Independent Online

An Italian nun was shot dead at a mother and children's hospital by unidentified Somali gunmen, doctors said Sunday.

Hospital doctor Mohamed Yusuf said the nun was shot in the back. The nun's bodyguard was also killed, doctors told The Associated Press.

The nun, who has not been identified, was shot at the entrance to the hospital in northern Mogadishu by two gunmen armed with pistols, Dr. Yusuf said.

A Somali man who worked at the S.O.S. hospital was also killed.

Yusuf Mohamed Siad, head of security with the Islamic courts, who control the capital, Mogadishu, said they had arrested two people but could not give further details.

"We are very concerned about this," he told The Associated Press. "We have arrested two people in connection with this."

The nun, who spoke fluent Somali, was believed to be around 60 and had been working at the hospital since 2002, said witnesses at the hospital on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.

It was not immediately clear whether the killing was linked to increased tensions between Muslims and Christians over a speech made by Pope Benedict XVI last week.

Earlier Sunday a leading Muslim cleric in Somalia condemned the Pope for causing offense to Muslims.

"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 in Mogadishu.

Somalia has been without an effective government since warlords overthrew its longtime dictator in 1991 and divided the nation into fiefdoms. The Islamic fundamentalists have stepped into the vacuum as an alternative military and political power.

The volatile nation in the Horn of Africa has been a particular concern to the United States, which has long-standing concerns that Somalia will become a refuge for members of Osama bin Laden's terror network, much like Afghanistan did in the late 1990s.

The country is also awash with weapons since it was plunged into civil war.

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