Italian nun killed by Somali gunmen

Gunmen shot an Italian nun at a children's hospital in Somalia's capital, hours after a leading Muslim cleric in Mogadishu condemned the Pope for his remarks on Islam and violence.

Gunmen shot and killed an Italian nun at a children's hospital in Somalia's capital on Sunday, hours after a leading Muslim cleric in Mogadishu condemned the Pope for his remarks on Islam and violence.

The nun, who was not immediately identified, was shot in the back at S.O.S. Hospital in northern Mogadishu by two gunmen, said Mohamed Yusuf, a doctor at the facility, which serves mothers and children.

The nun's bodyguard and a hospital worker were also killed, doctors said.

The shooting happened hours after a leading Muslim cleric in the mainly Sunni Muslim country condemned Pope Benedict XVI for citing a criticism of Islam's teachings by a 14th-century Byzantine emperor.

While giving a speech in Germany on Sept. 12, Benedict said spreading a faith through violence was unreasonable and offered a quotation from Emperor Manuel II Palaeologus, who said some teachings by the Prophet Muhammad were "evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached."

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack at the hospital in Mogadishu and it was not clear whether it was directly linked to the Pope's comments.

Yusuf Mohamed Siad, head of security for the Islamic militia that controls Mogadishu, said two people had been arrested.

Somali cleric criticizes Pope

Hours before the shooting, a prominent Somali cleric criticized the pontiff's speech at a news conference in the capital.

"It was not only wrong but irresponsible as well," said Sheik Nor Barud, who is 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 said.

Vatican worried about 'wave of hate'

In Rome, a Vatican spokesman, Rev. Federico Lombardi, called the nun's slaying "a horrible episode," the Italian news agency ANSA said.

"Let's hope that it will be an isolated fact."

Lombardi indicated the shooting could be related to the uproar over the Pope's remarks.

"We are 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.

Earlier on Sunday, Benedict apologized for the angry reaction to his remarks, which he said came from a text that didn't reflect his personal opinion.

Witnesses link nun's slaying to Pope

Witnesses also said the shooting and the Pope's comments appeared to be linked.

"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, who was at the scene when the nun was killed.

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.

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

The current interim government was established two years ago with the support of the United Nations, but has failed to assert any power outside its base in Baidoa, 240 kilometres from Mogadishu.

The Islamic group, which seized the capital and much of southern Somalia this past summer, is credited with bringing a semblance of order to the country after years of anarchy, but some of its leaders have been linked to al-Qaedaand there are fears of an emerging Taliban-style regime.

With files from the Associated Press