Four nuns from the order founded by Mother Teresa of Calcutta are reportedly among 16 killed by gunmen who attacked a church-run retirement home in Yemen, the latest attack on Christians in the increasingly lawless country.
The women religious, members of the Missionaries of Charity congregation, were killed when four armed men attacked the convent and home for the elderly in the southern city of Aden on March 4, the Catholic news agency Fides reported.
Two of the nuns were Rwandan, while one was from Kenya and another Indian, Fides said.
There were no immediate claims of responsibility but Yemen, on the southern edge of the Arabian Peninsula, is in the midst of a civil war that is also fueled by the involvement of outside nations.
The Islamic State group and al-Qaida affiliates have exploited the lawlessness and created safe havens in the south, where they have conducted numerous attacks.
In the summer, a Catholic church in the district of Crater was torched and sabotaged by Islamic extremists. Unknown assailants have also vandalized a Christian cemetery and burned a church, and last year blew up an abandoned Catholic church.
Yemen’s embattled government, backed by a Saudi-led coalition, is based in Aden but has struggled to impose its authority there. Shiite Houthi fighters allied with Iran still control the country’s capital, Sanaa.
Aden was once one of the world’s busiest ports and home to thriving Hindu and Christian communities, which have now largely disappeared.
One nun who survived Friday’s attack and was rescued by locals told the Associated Press that she hid inside a refrigerator in a store room after hearing a Yemeni guard shouting “run, run.”
One survivor said that in addition to the four nuns, six Ethiopians, one Yemeni cook, and Yemeni guards were among those killed. There are about 80 elderly and disabled residents of the facility.
Security officials said the attackers separated the nuns from the others and then shot them. They later handcuffed the elderly people and opened fire.
More than 6,000 people have been killed in the Yemen conflict since last March, while 28,500 people have been injured, according to U.N. figures.
The Missionaries of Charity was founded by Mother Teresa in 1950 and the congregation has since expanded globally from its Indian origins.
Mother Teresa died in 1997 and is expected be made a saint later this year, after Pope Francis signed a decree attributing a miracle in Brazil to the late nun.
[Rosie Scammell covers the Vatican for RNS.]