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Italian nun slain in Somalia, speculation of Pope link

Written by: Staff
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MOGADISHU, Sep 17 (Reuters) Gunmen shot and killed an Italian nun at a children's hospital in Mogadishu today in an attack that drew immediate speculation of links to Muslim anger over the Pope's recent remarks on Islam.

The Catholic nun's bodyguard also died in the latest attack apparently aimed at foreign personnel in volatile Somalia.

The assassinations were a blow to Mogadishu's new Islamist rulers' attempt to prove they have pacified one of the world's most lawless cities since chasing out warlords in June.

The bodyguard died instantly, but the nun was rushed into an operating theatre at the hospital after the shooting.

''After serious injuries, she died in the hospital treatment room,'' doctor Ali Mohamed Hassan told Reuters.

''She was shot three times in the back.'' Details of the incident at the so-called SOS hospital in north Mogadishu were sketchy. But one suspect was quickly arrested by Islamist militiamen who control the capital, witnesses near the scene said.

A high-level Islamist source told Reuters the attack may well be linked to the controversy over Pope Benedict's recent remarks about holy wars, which have been taken by many Muslims as an attempt to portray their religion as innately violent.

''SOS hospital is assisted by the Catholic Church and the slain aid worker was a nun,'' the source said. ''There is a very high possibility the people who killed her were angered by the Catholic Pope's recent comments against Islam.'' LITANY OF KILLINGS Borne out of local courts practicing strict sharia law, the Islamist movement in June seized Mogadishu from US-backed warlords who had run it for the past 15 years.

The Islamists have brought some order to the capital, which was awash with guns and where assassinations were common. But the nun's death -- and the June killing of a Swedish cameraman -- will damage their claim Mogadishu is now safe for foreigners.

Critics of the Islamists say they harbour al Qaeda-linked extremists in their ranks. The top Islamist leader, hardline cleric Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, is on U S and U N lists of people accused of links to terrorism.

The Islamists deny that, saying the West does not understand them and is succumbing to U S propaganda.

Bedri Hashi, an information officer for the Islamic Courts Union (ICU), said the killing may have been an attempt by enemies of the Islamists to hurt their image.

''I believe this attack was orchestrated by people who want to discredit the Islamic Courts,'' he told Reuters.

The Italian nun, whose name could not be immediately confirmed, was the latest in a litany of foreign aid workers and other international staff to be killed in Somalia during its recent, violent past.

The most high-profile recent killing was of Swedish cameraman Martin Adler in June during an Islamist rally.

Another Italian aid worker, Annalena Tonelli, was shot dead in the self-declared enclave of Somaliland in 2003.

Although the Islamists have managed to get guns off the streets and bring down roadblocks often run by young, erratic militiamen loyal to warlords, Mogadishu remains full of weapons and tensions are high.

The Islamists are engaged in a political standoff with the Western-backed interim government of Somalia which is based in Baidoa and has little military muscle of its own.

REUTERS MQA BS1816

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