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CRIME

Elderly Italian nuns murdered in Burundi

UPDATED: Three elderly Italian nuns were raped and murdered in twin attacks in their convent in the capital of Burundi, police said Monday as a hunt was launched for their killers.

Elderly Italian nuns murdered in Burundi
Photos (from left to right): Olga Raschietti, Bernadette Boggia and Lucia Pulici: Missionaire di Maria/AFP

Police initially reported that two nuns were stabbed to death on Sunday afternoon. The killer then battered one of the two with a rock, before fleeing the convent.

Italian authorities named the first two killed as Olga Raschietti, 83, and Lucia Pulici, 75, both Roman Catholic nuns.

But in the early hours of Monday morning, another nun in the same convent was killed, her body beaten and head hacked off. Colleagues named her as Bernadette Boggia, aged 79.

"After the discovery of the two nuns who were brutally killed… the decapitated body of the third nun was found," Deputy Director General of Police Godefroid Bizimana told AFP.

Pope Francis issued his condolences.

"The Holy Father begs the Lord to welcome into his kingdom of peace and light these three faithful and devout nuns," he said in a statement.

According to the diocese of Parma in Italy, they were killed during a botched burglary attempt.

But Burundi's police said the motive of the killing was not clear, pointing out that no money was taken.

Police spokesman Colonel Helmegilde Harimenshi said all three were raped.

Father Mario Pulcini, an Italian Catholic priest working in the same parish, said after the first two nuns were killed, Boggia had called him in the middle of the night reporting that she had heard a noise in the convent.

'Barbarity'

"The body of Sister Bernadette was found lying in a pool of blood, her head decapitated, and her face bore signs of beating," he told AFP in shock.

"The perpetrators had abused her, as they had violated the other two sisters earlier."

Burundian Vice-President Prosper Bazombanza said the government was "appalled by such barbarity", and promised police would do all they could to arrest the killers.

"No one can understand how a third sister was killed late at night… Burundi's government promises to shed light on this matter as quickly as possible," he added.

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 suspected killer in the first attack was seen fleeing the convent with a knife in his hand, said Damien Baseka, a local government administrator in Bujumbura.

Police sources suggested the third nun was killed by an accomplice who had hidden in the convent.

Police spokesman Colonel Helmegilde Harimenshi said three men were being questioned.

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

The small nation in Africa's Great Lakes region emerged in 2006 from 13 years of brutal civil war and its political climate remains fractious ahead of presidential polls due in June 2015.

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ROME

‘Bank robber’ rescued in Rome after tunnel collapses

Four people were arrested in Rome after a suspected would-be bank robber was rescued from a tunnel under a road, police said on Friday.

'Bank robber' rescued in Rome after tunnel collapses

An Italian man had to be rescued after becoming trapped in a collapsed tunnel near the Vatican, suspected of being part of a gang burrowing its way to a nearby bank.

Firefighters spent eight hours digging him out from under a road in the west of Rome, before he was finally freed on Thursday evening and taken to hospital.

“Two people from Naples were arrested for resisting a public official and two, from Rome, for damage” to public property, a police spokesman told AFP.

The rescued man, one of the two Romans, remains in hospital, he said without giving an update on his condition.

“We are still investigating, we do not exclude that they are thieves, it is one of the theories,” he said.

For Italian newspapers, however, the motive was clear, with reports noting the tunnel was found near a bank ahead of the August 15th long weekend, when residents traditionally head out of town and much of Rome is left empty.

“The hole gang,” headlined newspapers Repubblica and Corriere della Sera, while La Stampa said: “They dig a tunnel to rob a bank, and one of them is buried underground.”

Other reports referred to the suspected burglar as l’uomo-talpa, or ‘mole man’.

An AFP reporter at the scene on Thursday saw the man brought out alive on a stretcher, after a day-long operation involving dozens of emergency service workers using mechanical diggers.

The tunnel began underneath an empty shop that had recently been rented.

“We all thought that the people there were renovating the place. So we had no suspicions and we did not hear noises either,” a resident, Michele, who lives in the same building told AFP.

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