Vatican City, May 23, 2019: A 77-year-old French-Spanish nun who taught impoverished women and girls in volatile Central African Republic has been decapitated, local authorities said May 22.
The Vatican News website said Sister Ines Nieves Sancho was found beheaded on May 20 in the village of Nola, located in the remote southwest near the borders with Cameroon and the Republic of Congo. However a bishop in CAR said her throat had been slit.
The nun belonged to the “Filles de Jesus”, or “Daughters of Jesus,” which is based in Massac-Seran in southwestern France.
A spokesman for the diocese of Burgos in Spain told AFP a bishop in the Central African Republic had described the state of the nun’s body.
“They cut her neck to the point of killing her, but they didn’t cut off her head completely,” he said.
The bishop said the motives for her murder were not known and “no terrorist organization” has claimed responsibility for it, the spokesman added.
The bishop of the diocese of Berberati led the funeral for Ines Nieves Sancho on May 21, he said.
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 km from Berberati, the country’s third largest city and traditionally a center of diamond production.
Authorities also said ritual crimes are not uncommon in and around Nola, some 500 km southwest of the national capital of Bangui, and perpetrators are rarely punished.
Ndoukou vowed that the unknown attackers would be punished, and the country’s parliament called for an investigation.
On May 22, 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.
Pope Francis said the death of the nun, “who gave her life for Jesus in the service of the poor,” was “barbaric”.
Vatican News said, “Her attackers broke into her room on the night between Sunday and Monday and took her to the center she was running for the young girls, where they beheaded her.”
“According to a local member of parliament, the murder could be linked to trafficking in human organs,” the site adds.
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.
A presidential election was held during a period of relative peace in 2016 though instability later returned to many parts of the country. Despite several peace agreements, including one earlier this year, the country remains plagued by conflict.
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez took to Twitter to express his “condolences and affection for Ines’ family” as well as for a Spanish missionary, Fernando Hernandez, who was killed on May 18 in Burkina Faso.
Father Hernandez, a 60-year-old Salesian in Bobo-Dioulasso, “was attacked by knives by a former employee who was fired two months ago,” according to the website of the Salesian congregation, salesianos.info.
He is the second Salesian to have been murdered in Burkina Faso this year. In February Antonio Cesar Fernandez, 72, was the victim of a “jihadist attack”, according to the website.
CAR has been struggling to recover from the bloodletting that erupted when former president Francois Bozize, a Christian, was overthrown in 2013 by mainly-Muslim Seleka rebels.
Armed groups, typically claiming to defend an ethnic or religious group, control about 80 percent of the CAR, often fighting over access to the country’s mineral wealth.
Thousands have lost their lives, nearly 650,000 have fled their homes and another 575,000 have left the country, according to UN figures as of December last year.