At least 48 school students have been killed in Nigeria after a suicide bomber apparently dressed in school uniform detonated explosives in a packed assembly meeting.
Around 2,000 students – some as young as 11 – were waiting to hear the principal’s Monday morning address when the blast ripped through the crowd. Eyewitnesses spoke of horrific scenes as body parts were scattered all over the school compound. The mood then turned to anger, with soldiers who turned up to secure the area pelted with rocks by locals, who accused them of failing to protect the area against terrorist attack.
The bombing took place at the Government Technical Science College in the city of Potiskum, a town of 200,000 in north-east Nigeria’s Yobe state and a regular target of attacks by the Boko Haram Islamist group. Only last week, a suicide bomb in the same city killed 30 people taking part in a religious procession of moderate Muslims.
Musa Ibrahim Yahaya, survivor of the school bombing, spoke to the AP news agency from his hospital bed, where he was being treated for head wounds. “We were waiting for the principal to address us, around 7:30 a.m., when we heard a deafening sound and I was blown off my feet,” he said. “People started screaming and running, I saw blood all over my body.”
Aliyu Abubakar, a Potiskum resident, said he heard the explosion when he was dropping off his two sons at a nearby Islamic college. “One of my sons fell down, I came out dragged him in and we drove off back home,” he said.
A morgue attendant said 48 bodies were brought to the hospital and all appeared to be between the ages of 11 and 20 years old. Hospital workers said the scale of the injuries was so bad that some of the injured were likely to need amputations.
Survivors said the bomber appeared to have hidden the explosives in a type of rucksack popular with students. Nigeria’s military recently reported finding a bomb factory where explosives were being sewn into rucksacks in the northern city of Kano.
While there has so far been no claim of responsibility for the attack, suspicion will fall on Boko Haram, which has carried out numerous bombings and Mumbai-style gun attacks during the five-year insurgency it has fought in its bid to turn an Islamic caliphate in northern Nigeria. The group, whose name roughly translates as “Western education is sinful”, has focused many of its attacks on schools.
In February, gunmen killed at least 40 students after throwing explosives into the dormitory of a government boarding school in Buni Yadi, also in Yobe state. And
in July last year, 42 students were killed when Boko Haram attacked dormitories in a gun and bomb attack on a government boarding school in the village of Mamudo, near Potiskum.
Boko Haram’s most high-profile attack on a school came in April, when fighters kidnapped 276 girls from the town of Chibok in Borno state, also in northeast Nigeria.
More than six months later, 219 of the girls are still being held. Claims last month that the girls were to be released as part of a ceasefire deal were rubbished on Sunday in a new video broadcast by Boko Haram’s leader, Abubakar Shekau.
A medic at the Potiskum General Hospital, where the victims were taken, said scores of students had been admitted. “We are still receiving casualties from the school which is a stone’s throw from here,” the medic said.
“Our priority now is to save the injured, so we have not started a headcount of the victims.”
A local resident, Adamu Alkassim, said there was confusion in and around the school. The scene was a mass of abandoned footwear and blood.
Yobe is one of three northeastern states that has been under a state of emergency since May last year to try to quell the bloody insurgency.
But violence has continued unabated and Boko Haram has seized at least two dozen towns and villages in recent months, raising doubts about the government’s ability to control the region.