NAIROBI, Kenya – Sister Leonella Sgorbati, who was slain outside a hospital where she worked as a missionary in Somalia's restive capital, was remembered Thursday as a devoted nun who was willing to die to help the starving and sick in Africa.
The 65-year-old nun was shot in the back four times Sunday in attack possibly linked to worldwide Muslim anger toward Pope Benedict XVI, who had quoted a Medieval text that characterized some of the teachings of Islam's founder as "evil and inhuman." Her bodyguard also was killed.
"She was ever so generous," Sister Rose, her colleague at the Consolata Sisters of Kenya, said at a funeral that drew hundreds of mourners. "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 a day later by Somalia's first suicide bombing, raised fears of rising extremist violence in Somalia after more than 15 years of anarchy. The Islamic fundamentalists who control Mogadishu and much of southern Somalia have 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 the two walked the 30 feet 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 Sept. 12 remarks.
Bishop Giorgio Bertin of Djibouti, who also serves 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," Bertin said of the nun, who witnesses say muttered the words "I forgive, I forgive," in Italian after being shot. "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 has 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 is accused of having ties to al-Qaida, has all but wrested control from the weak and factional Somali government. With it has come a hard-line Taliban-style rule complete with public floggings and executions. Its leaders have pledged to wage holy war against a peacekeeping force that is supposed to arrive early next month to help stabilize the country.
The United States has accused the Islamic group of sheltering suspects in the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. Al-Qaida chief Osama bin Laden has portrayed Somalia as a battleground in his war on the U.S.