Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Somalia: Three men in custody over nun's killing

Mogadishu skyline

NAIROBI, 18 Sep 2006 (IRIN) - The Union of Islamic Courts (UIC), which controls the Somali capital, Mogadishu, has arrested three men in connection with the killing on Sunday of an Italian nun working at a hospital in the south of the city, a security official said.

"We have three men in custody; one is a suspect in the killing and two are being held as witnesses," Sheikh Yusuf Mohamed Siad, the UIC security chief, said on Monday from Mogadishu.

He said security forces were hunting for a "second gunman who is suspected of involvement in the killing".

Unidentified gunmen shot Sister Leonella Sgorbati as she left the Austrian-funded SOS Hospital for her home across the street. They also shot her bodyguard, who died instantly, while "the sister died shortly in surgery from her wounds", a doctor, who declined to be named, said.

Sister Sgorbati was in charge of the school for orphans run by the SOS in the hospital compound.

"She was a kind, compassionate woman, someone who was very close to her students," Asha Abdi Dini, who knew the nun, said. "She loved the Somali people and dedicated her life to them. She will be missed by all of us who knew her and worked with her."

Sister Sgorbati had been in Somalia for the past five years and spoke fluent Somali, Dini said.

The UIC has condemned the killings and sent condolences to the families of Sister Sgorbati and her bodyguard.

"We condemn in the strongest possible terms this criminal act," Shaykh Abdulkadir Ali, UIC vice-chairman, said. "We view it as a direct attack on the Somali people. She was here to help the Somali people."

The United Nations Secretary-General's Special Representative for Somalia, Fran├žois Fall, also condemned the assassination. "The taking of innocent civilian lives is unacceptable," he said. "Sister Leonella Sgorbati had worked in east Africa for about 38 years. She contributed much to the needs of the population, especially children in the Somali capital."

Witnesses said Sister Sgorbati was shot four times in the back as she walked from the hospital to her home.

Sheikh Siad said the motive for killing remained unclear but believed it was intended to "make the courts look bad".

He added, "We have our suspicions but until we complete our investigation we cannot say for sure what the motive was."

The UIC has been in control of much of southern Somalia, including the capital, since 4 June when it drove out a group of faction leaders who had controlled Mogadishu since 1991 when the administration of Muhammad Siyad Barre was toppled.

The UIC has vowed to restore order in Somalia and has started creating Islamic courts in the areas it controls.

Reproduced with the kind permission of IRIN
IRIN 2006
Photo: Copyright
Abdimalik Yusuf/IRIN
Disclaimer: This article does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations or its agencies