Gunmen killed an Italian nun and her bodyguard at the entrance of a hospital where she worked, doctors and witnesses said Sunday in what some feared was connected to Muslim outrage over the pope's recent remarks about Islam. The nun, who has not been identified, was shot in the back four times by two gunmen armed with pistols, Dr. Mohamed Yusef told The Associated Press.
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Her Somali bodyguard also was killed in the midday Sunday shooting at S.O.S. Hospital for women and children in volatile northern Mogadishu, witnesses and hospital officials said.
Two people have been arrested, Yusuf Mohamed Siad, head of security for the Islamic courts now controlling the capital, told the AP without providing further details.
The nun, who spoke fluent Somali, was believed to be around age 60 and had been working at the hospital since 2002, witnesses said on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.
Like many foreigners, she traveled with a bodyguard in Somalia, which sank into anarchy after warlords overthrew the country's longtime dictator in 1991.
Islamic fundamentalists have stepped into the political and security vacuum, seizing control of the capital and much of the south of Somalia and imposing strict religious rule. The Islamic courts are credited with bringing a semblance of order to the country, but the West fears the emergence of a Taliban-style regime.
Several witnesses blamed Sunday's shooting on the recent controversy over a speech Pope Benedict XVI made in Germany on Tuesday on Islam in which he quoted a Medieval text calling the Prophet Muhammad's teachings "evil and inhuman."
"I am sure the killers were angered by the pope's speech in which he attacked our prophet," said Ashe Ahmed Ali, one of the many who witnessed the shooting.
"These gunmen always look for white people to kill, and now the pope gave them the reason to do their worst," said Mohamud Durguf Derow, another witness.
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 reporters at a news conference in Mogadishu.
In Italy, Benedict said Sunday he was "deeply sorry" about the reaction to his remarks, saying the text he quoted did not reflect his personal opinion.
A Vatican spokesman called the nun's slaying "a horrible episode," the Italian news agency ANSA said.
"Let's hope that it will be an isolated fact," the Rev. Federico Lombardi said, expressing hopes for an end to the Muslim anger over Benedict's comments.
The Vatican is "following with concern the consequences of this wave of hate, hoping that it does not lead to grave consequences for the church in the world," he was quoted as saying.