A 77-year-old French-Spanish nun who taught impoverished women and girls in volatile Central African Republic has been decapitated, local authorities said Wednesday.
Sister Ines Nieves Sancho’s body was found early Monday in the village of Nola, located in the remote southwest near the borders with Cameroon and the Republic of Congo.
Local authorities condemned the killing but suggested it may not be linked to the ongoing sectarian bloodshed between militia groups that first engulfed the country in 2013.
“Elsewhere it’s the rebels who kill, but in Nola people kill to get rich,” said Jean Marc Ndoukou, an official in the village located about 135 kilometres (83 miles) from Berberati, the country’s third largest city and traditionally a centre of diamond production.
Authorities also said ritual crimes are not uncommon in and around Nola and perpetrators are rarely punished.
Ndoukou vowed that the unknown attackers would be punished, and the country’s parliament called for an investigation.
On Wednesday, Pope Francis led thousands of people in prayer for Nieves Sancho, saying she was “barbarously killed” in the place where she taught. The Vatican said she had worked with the poor for decades.
Sectarian violence exploded in Central African Republic in late 2013 after mostly Christian and animist militia fighters retaliated against Muslim civilians following a brutal rule by a mostly Muslim rebel government. Violence engulfed the capital and the southwest where an untold number of Muslims were slaughtered as they attempted to flee to Cameroon.
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According to L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper, the Daughter of Jesus missionary sister had dedicated her life to teaching children, especially girls, to sew in order to learn a trade and make a better life for themselves.
Authorities believe the missionary was murdered and mutilated precisely in the room where she taught the children, the Vatican newspaper reported.
In an interview May 21 with COPE, the Spanish Catholic radio station, Spanish-born Bishop Juan Aguirre Munoz of Bangassou said that Sister Nieves was “dragged out of her bed and on Monday she was found almost decapitated. We don’t know why.”
Authorities currently have no suspects or motive for the brutal killing but suspect that it was possibly carried out by people involved in human trafficking or searching for diamonds in a sadistic ritual meant to bring good fortune.
However, Bishop Aguirre told COPE that the political situation in Central African Republic is tense not only for Christians but for the entire population.
“It is a country where 80 percent of its territory has been conquered by 14 warlords who have trampled it underfoot,” the bishop told COPE. “It is a very delicate situation.”