Monday, November 10, 2008

Catholic Nuns Kidnapped

Associated Press Writer Mohamed Olad Hassan contributed

MOGADISHU, Somalia (AP) — Gunmen seized two Italian Catholic nuns from a church in northern Kenya before dawn Monday and took them across the border into a Somali region largely controlled by Islamist insurgents, officials and witnesses said.

The Italian Foreign Ministry said its crisis unit was working with its ambassador to Kenya to secure the nuns' freedom. The papal nuncio in Kenya is also involved, the ministry said.

The nuns were seized from their home in El Wak, on the Somali border about 420 miles (675 kilometers) northeast of the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, the Kenyan Red Cross said.

The bandits also stole three vehicles, the Red Cross said.

Aden Mohamed Isaqm, a local aid worker, said six gunmen hurled a hand grenade and fired a rocket at Kenyan police just after dawn prayers before seizing the nuns from the local church and driving toward the border.

Witness Shacban Mohamed Ali told The Associated Press that he had seen two foreigners in a car surrounded by militiamen.

The nuns had been visiting areas affected by a recent drought, Ali said.

The Catholic church has been the target of frequent attacks in Somalia, parts of which were once colonized by Italy. In 2005, insurgents dug up remains in an Italian cemetery where around 3,000 people were buried, and threw them into the sea. The following year an Italian nun working in a hospital in the capital was shot dead. Earlier this year, residents of the southern town of Kismayo began destroying an abandoned Catholic church after the town was taken by Islamic extremists.

Somalia has not had a functioning government since clan-based warlords overthrew a socialist dictator in 1991. The current weak and corrupt transitional government is supported by Ethiopian troops, who ousted the Islamists from the capital and much of the south in December 2006.

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