US nurse shot dead in Lebanon
Brian Whitaker in Cairo and agencies
Friday November 22, 2002
The Guardian
A woman was shot dead and two soldiers were seriously wounded in two separate attacks on Americans in the Middle East yesterday. Bonnie Weatherall, a 31-year-old nurse, was found dead at a Christian evangelical centre in Lebanon where she worked. A security source said she had been shot at least three times in the head. A colleague, speaking anonymously to Reuters, said the church, which runs a school and health clinic in Sidon, had been warned to leave the area by "Sunni Muslim extremists". "About three to four months ago the frequency of the warnings increased and the language toughened," the worker said. Some of the Muslim clerics in Sidon have accused the church of trying to convert young people to Christianity. About 30% of Lebanon's population is Christian. Several militant Sunni groups are active in Sidon and Ain al-Hilweh, a Palestinian refugee camp nearby. They include Usbat al-Ansar, which is alleged to have connections with al-Qaida and is on the US list of proscribed organisations. Since May there have been at least five bomb attacks on American fast-food restaurants in Lebanon. Two American soldiers were seriously wounded when a policeman opened fire on them in Kuwait yesterday while they were travelling on official business between the military base of Camp Doha and the town of Oraifijan, 35 miles south of Kuwait City, a US military spokesman said. One soldier was shot in the face and the other in the shoulder. The condition of both men was described as serious but not life-threatening. The motive was unclear, but a Kuwaiti official suggested that the police officer had a history of mental health problems. He reportedly escaped across the border to Saudi Arabia after the shooting. This is the latest in a series of incidents involving American troops in what could become the launch pad for a US-led invasion of Iraq. Last month, two gunmen, believed to be militant Islamists, shot dead a US marine and wounded another on the Kuwaiti island of Failaka. The attackers - whose exploits were later praised in a tape recording attributed to Osama bin Laden - were killed by other marines.

Spate of attacks raises Arab terrorism fears
AMERICANS came under attack across the Middle East yesterday, prompting fears of a new wave of terrorist strikes at vulnerable Western targets in the Arab world. An American nurse was killed by a gunman in Lebanon. Two US soldiers were shot and injured in Kuwait by a fugitive policeman. In Saudi Arabia a gunman burst into a McDonald’s restaurant and set it alight. US officials are investigating whether the incidents were isolated attacks or part of a coordinated campaign. Hours before the latest violence, the US State Department had issued a warning to American citizens abroad that Osama bin Laden was preparing fresh attacks against them. Last week he appeared to claim credit for a wave of recent terrorist strikes from the bombing in Bali to an attack at sea on a French tanker off the coast of Yemen. Whether orchestrated or not, the impact of the latest violence will be much the same: to sow fear among American and other Western expatriates living in the region. The deadliest attack was in the southern Lebanese city of Sidon, where Bonnie Witheral, 31, anassistant nurse married to Gary Witheral from Crawley in West Sussex, was found lying in a pool of blood at the clinic where she worked. She had been shot three times in the head. She worked for the Christian Missionary Alliance, which runs a school and a health clinic and serves mainly Palestinians from the nearby Ain el-Hilweh refugee camp. According to local reports, the church had received a series of threats by extremists warning it to close its mission and leave. Mrs Witheral’s murder is the first attack on an American citizen in Lebanon since a spate of kidnappings and killings of Westerners during the civil war, which ended a decade ago.
Various militant Palestinian and Lebanese Sunni Muslim groups are active in the area and one is linked to the al-Qaeda network. Earlier this week Vincent Battle, the US Ambassador to Beirut, cancelled a visit to the city after protests from religious leaders. A second manhunt started in Kuwait after two American soldiers were shot and injured by a traffic policeman on a motorway south of the capital. Kuwaiti sources said that the soldiers, based at the sprawling US military Camp Doha, were in civilian clothes and travelling in an unmarked car when they were flagged down by the Kuwaiti officer near the town of Oraifijan. One was shot in the face and the other in the shoulder before the policemen fled across the border into Saudi Arabia. US officials, mindful of the dangers posed to Western troops as they mass in Kuwait and other Gulf states in preparation for an invasion of Iraq, played down the incident. “There have been terrorist attacks in that region for my entire adult lifetime, and that is a long time,” Donald Rumsfeld, 70, the US Defence Secretary, said. The Pentagon now has about 50,000 troops in the area. Although they are usually confined to their bases in the Gulf or kept out of sight on board ships, the larger the force becomes the more vulnerable it will be to terrorist attacks from local groups. Saudi Arabia, where support for bin Laden is thought to be strongest, said that it would crack down on violence after an arson attack against a McDonald’s near the Prince Sultan airbase, where 4,500 US troops are stationed. A gunman walked into the restaurant on Wednesday and doused the building with petrol before setting it alight. “We will fight this act with all our power and bring it under control,” Prince Nayef, the Interior Minister, said. “Punishment will be severe.

Lebanese police hunt killer of American missionary
(Reuters) - Lebanese security forces on Friday hunted a gunman who killed an American missionary after her church had been warned by Muslim clerics not to try to convert Muslims to Christianity. A day after the shooting of Bonnie Witherall, a nurse assistant at an evangelical maternity clinic, her British husband said his wife had known the risks of coming to Sidon, a mostly Muslim port in south Lebanon. "Some people said don't go because it's too dangerous, but both of us made the decision together. We were ready to lay our lives down," Gary Witherall told Reuters. "We both knew the threats. We were diligent and careful. I even bought Bonnie a cellphone for emergencies," he added. Church workers said no specific threats were ever made against the church, but that rumours had been spread alleging the clinic offered abortions and was trying to convert Muslims. "We had a discussion with Muslim clergy in Sidon... They don't want anyone to be converted to Christianity," said Sami Dagher, head of the Christian and Missionary Alliance churches in Lebanon. "They asked me to stop any Muslim coming to the church and I told them I cannot do that. It is the house of God and anyone is allowed to come," he added, saying the centre would remain open. There was no immediate claim of responsibility but a number of radical Sunni Muslim groups are active in southern Lebanon, including one on Washington's list of terrorist organisations with suspected links to Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network. A leading Sunni cleric in south Lebanon said he did not condemn Witherall's killing but urged Lebanese to use other methods to show their contempt for U.S. policy. "We do not condemn, but we want a different method than this one to show that our whole society is against the American policy," Sheikh Maher Hammoud said.
"Actions of killing and bombings that target Americans in any place... are an expression of Muslim condemnation of U.S. policy," he added, saying he had repeatedly warned the Christian mission not to try to convert Muslims. The incident was the first such killing in Lebanon since the 1975-1990 civil war, when Lebanese Muslim fundamentalist groups kidnapped and killed Americans and other Westerners. The spelling of Witherall's name as given by her husband differs from previous spellings issued by colleagues and the U.S. embassy.
A suspected Islamist militant shot 31-year-old Witherall, born in California but raised in Washington state, three times in the head on Thursday as she entered her clinic in Sidon. "The first shot was in her mouth as if to silence her. It appears when she fell on the floor she was shot twice in the head," a source close to the investigation said. The U.S. embassy in Beirut warned Americans in Lebanon to "remain vigilant" after the killing, saying it was working with Lebanese authorities on the case. Lebanese police and security officials questioned witnesses and suspects on Friday but said no one had been arrested. Anti-American sentiment has grown in Lebanon since a Palestinian uprising against U.S. ally Israel began two years ago. Anger has also intensified over Washington's threatened military action against Iraq. Last month, a senior U.S. diplomat was shot dead in Jordan amid a similar anti-American mood. Gary Witherall said he forgave his wife's killers. "It's a very expensive forgiveness. It's not cheap," Witherall said. "I forgive them, but there are tears in my eyes." He said he would take her body home next week. A memorial service was planned for Sunday in Sidon.

Friends Remember Slain Missionary
(AP) _ An American missionary killed in southern Lebanon considered the Middle Eastern nation her home and was excited about working with women at a clinic there, said friends in the Northwest. Bonnie D. Penner, 31, died when a gunman fired three bullets into her head Thursday at the Unity Center, which houses a Christian chapel and the clinic where Penner worked as a nurse, providing medical care and help to local people and Palestinian refugees. "She chartered her course early in life to go out and be of service. I look at her as a junior Mother Teresa," Portland, Ore., Police Chief Mark Kroeker, a family friend, told KGW-TV. "She's just the kind of person who doesn't walk out of your life without leaving a massive hole," said the Rev. Bill Perkins, also of Portland. Perkins, whose son is a friend of Penner's husband, Garry Whitherall, said his family had become very close to the couple in recent years. "We feel like we've lost a daughter," Perkins said in a telephone interview Thursday. In an e-mail Penner sent Perkins on Monday, she wrote:
"I felt this overwhelming joy in being here in this place. I have such a heart for the women in this camp and I can touch their lives through the clinic." Investigators believe a gunman knocked at the door of the clinic and shot Penner when she opened the door. A colleague found her body, police said. The shooting is believed to be the first targeted killing of a U.S. citizen in Lebanon in more than a decade. During the 1980s, more than 270 Americans were killed in shootings and bombings in the country, which shares borders with Syria and Israel. Perkins said Penner and her husband never expressed any fears about traveling to the Middle East, where resentment of Americans has been growing in the face of a possible war in Iraq.
"They went because they wanted to go where they felt the need was the greatest," Perkins said. "They felt safe in Lebanon." Penner's parents, Al and Ann Penner of rural Lynden, about 100 miles north of Seattle, were not commenting on their daughter's death, said a friend who answered their telephone. School records in Vancouver, Wash., show Penner attended Walnut Grove Elementary School and graduated from Fort Vancouver High School in June 1990. She met Whitherall while attending Moody Bible College in Chicago from 1993 to 1996. She earned a degree in international ministries from the school by correspondence in 2000. She and her husband were married in 1997 in Lake Oswego, Ore., said Perkins, who performed the ceremony. Before leaving the United States in 2000, the couple worked at First Consumers National Bank in Beaverton, Ore. Penner's supervisor at the bank, Jeanette Miller, said the couple were enthusiastic about working in Lebanon despite the dangers for Americans there. "She was excited about being there. She wanted to go over and do God's work," Miller told The Columbian newspaper of Vancouver. "She enjoyed what she was doing. She loved Lebanon, and felt that was her home.

Lebanese Prime Minister Condemns Killing of US Missionary
VOA News: Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri has condemned the Thursday killing of an American missionary as a horrible crime aimed at undermining Lebanon's security and stability. Mr. Hariri says "nothing can justify" the shooting of Bonnie Penner, the first killing of an American in Lebanon in more than 10 years. Authorities say an unidentified man shot Ms. Penner at the clinic where she worked as a nurse in the southern Lebanese city of Sidon. The California native was married to a British man and had lived in the area for two years. The clinic is run by Christian missionaries and helps Palestinian refugees and Lebanese living in the mostly Muslim city. U.S. embassy officials are in Sidon assisting Lebanese police in their investigation. The port city of Sidon is known as a center for Muslim fundamentalist and terrorist groups, such as Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and Lebanese radicals opposed to U.S. support of Israel. Ms. Penner's murder is the latest in a string of anti-American attacks in Lebanon and across the Middle East. Last week, three fast-food restaurants associated with the United States were bombed in Lebanon, causing damage but no casualties. In Jordan last month, an American government aid worker was shot dead in front of his home in the capital.

Christian Charity Shuts Down After Nurse's Murder in Sidon
Naharnet: Christian missionaries suspended their philanthropic work in Sidon on Friday, after the mysterious murder of a young American nurse in the predominantly Muslim city raised fears from spiraling anti-U.S. sentiment in Lebanon. Investigators were still searching for clues to the killing of Bonnie Weatherall, who was shot dead Thursday at the Unity Center, which housed an Evangelical church and a clinic catering to low-income Lebanese and Palestinian families. A notice posted at the entrance of the building said that the U.S.-based Christian Missionary Alliance Church "regrets the suspension of its work" in Sidon. The curt notice did not say for how long the closure would last. But a senior spokesman for the center told Naharnet that this was a temporary measure and insisted: "We are not afraid of terrorists." The remark indicated that he suspected political and religious motives behind the killing of Wearherall, a Californian, who was found lying in a pool of blood at the center with three bullet wounds to her head. The U.S. Embassy issued a warning to all Americans to "remain vigilant with regard to their personal security and to exercise caution." Sources in Sidon said the center had received and ignored several warnings in the past expressing dismay at its missionary operations among the Muslims. Prime Minister Hariri, perplexed by the murder in his own hometown on the eve of the Paris-2 conference of the international donor community, deplored the attack. "This crime is aimed at harming Lebanon's efforts to strengthen stability and confidence in the country," he said in a statement from Paris on Thursday. Hariri has been in the French capital since Tuesday preparing for Saturday's conference, which will be dedicated for Lebanon's economy and in which the United States is participating. The nurse, whose maiden name is Penner, had been living with her British husband Gary Weatherall in Sidon for 18 months. She was the first American citizen to be killed in Lebanon since the end of the civil war, which saw many political assassinations and kidnappings of Westerners. Her husband said that he forgave those behind her wife's death.
Anti-U.S. sentiment has been rife in Lebanon following the backlash against Muslims and Arabs in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror spree. Small bombs have exploded outside three U.S. fast-food joints in the country recently, claiming material damage, but no casualties.

(This report was compiled by the Lebanese Coordinating Council Media Committee -LCCC)