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Slain nun 'was willing to die'

2006-09-21 15:36

Nairobi - Sister Leonella Sgorbati, who was slain outside a hospital, where she worked as a missionary in Somalia's restive capital, was remembered on Thursday as a devoted nun who was willing to die to help the starving and sick in Africa.

Sister Leonella, 65, was shot in the back four times on Sunday in attack possibly linked to worldwide Muslim anger toward Pope Benedict XVI. Her bodyguard also was killed.

Sister Rose, her colleague at the Consolata Sisters of Kenya, said: "She was ever so generous." She was speaking during a funeral that drew hundreds of mourners.

She said: "In the end, she gave her whole life. May the sacrifice of her life contribute to the peace of the world and of Somalia in particular."

The nun's death, followed just one day later by Somalia's first suicide bombing, had raised fears of rising extremist violence in the country after more than 15 years of anarchy.

No claim of responsibility for the attack

The Islamic fundamentalists who controlled Mogadishu and much of southern Somalia had denied responsibility. Born Rosa Sgorbati in Italy, Sister Leonella had lived and worked in Kenya and Somalia for 38 years.

She and her bodyguard were shot as both walked the nine metres from the Mogadishu hospital to the sister's home, where three other nuns were waiting to have lunch with her.

There was no claim of responsibility for the attack, which came hours after a leading Somali cleric condemned the pope's September 12 remarks.

In a speech, Benedict quoted a Medieval text that characterised some of the teachings of Islam's founder as "evil and inhuman".

'We can call her a martyr'

Bishop Giorgio Bertin of Djibouti, who also served as the apostolic administrator of Mogadishu, said Sister Leonella had a sense of naivete, but she knew the dangers of her job. She used to joke that there was a bullet with her name engraved on it.

"We can call her a martyr. I forgive, I forgive. Of course she is not the only martyr, at least in my experience, in Somalia. But I hope she will be the last of the martyrs for Somalia."

The increasing power of Somalia's fundamentalist rulers had coincided with a wave of killings of foreign workers and moderate Somali intellectuals.

Among them were Swedish journalist, Martin Adler, who was killed in June during a demonstration in Mogadishu and prominent Somali peace activist Abdulkadir Yahya Ali, who was slain a month later. BBC journalist Kate Peyton was shot to death last year.

The Islamic group, which was accused of having ties to al-Qaeda, had all but wrested control from the weak and factional Somali government.