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Italian nuns murdered

Timothy JonesSeptember 8, 2014

Three elderly Italian nuns have been raped and murdered in twin attacks at their convent in the north of Burundi's capital, Bujumbura. Police say the motive for the killings is unclear.

Map of Burundi showing Bujumbura

Three Italian Roman Catholic nuns were murdered in twin attacks on Sunday and Monday in their convent in the north of Bujumbura, police said.

Sisters Olga Raschietti and Lucia Pulici, aged 75 and 82, were stabbed to death on Sunday afternoon, and Sister Bernadetta Boggia, 79, died in a second attack early on Monday morning.

Police spokesman Colongel Helmegilde Harimenschi said all three were also raped, adding that three men were being questioned over the killings

Boggia may have been killed by an accomplice to the first attack who hid in the convent, police sources said. The suspected killer in the Sunday attack was seen fleeing the building with a knife in his hand, according to a local government administrator.

Burundian Vice-President Prosper Bazombanza said the government was "appalled by such barbarity," and promised that every effort would be made to find the killers.

Bazombanza also expressed his concern at the fact that a second deadly attack had occurred in the convent within the space of a few hours, saying the government would "shed light on this matter as quickly as possible."

Motive still unknown

The Catholic diocese of Parma, to which the nuns were attached, said that the first two murders appeared to have been "the tragic outcome of an armed robbery by a mentally unbalanced person." However, Burundi police have questioned this account, pointing out that no money was taken.

Pope Francis on Monday offered condolences by telegram over the "tragic death" of the three nuns to their families, the local parishioners and the sisters' order, the Xavarian Missionary Sisters of Mary.

Italian Foreign minister Federica Mogherini condemned the attacks.

"Once again we are witnessing the sacrifice of people who, in total commitment, have spent their lives to relieve the suffering still on the African continent," she said.

The convent to which the nuns belonged was in Kamenge, a district that has long been a hotspot of ethnic violence. Bujumbura is still recovering from a 1993-2006 civil war between the Hutu and Tutsi ethnic groups.

In 2011, a Croatian nun and an Italian charity worker were killed in an apparent botched robbery in northern Burundi.

tj/ksb (Reuters, AFP, dpa)