POTISKUM, Nigeria — Islamic militants attacked a boarding school in Nigeria’s embattled northeast before dawn Saturday, dousing a dormitory in fuel and igniting it as students slept, survivors said. At least 30 people were killed in the deadliest attack yet on schools in the region.
Authorities blamed the violence on Boko Haram, a radical group whose name means “Western education is sacrilege.” The militants have been behind a wave of recent attacks on schools in the northeast, including one in which gunmen opened fire on children taking exams in a classroom.
“We were sleeping when we heard gunshots. When I woke up, someone was pointing a gun at me,” Musa Hassan, 15, told a reporter about the assault on the Government Secondary School in Mamudo, a village in Yobe state.
Hassan said he put his arm up in defense and suffered a gunshot that blew off all four fingers on his right hand, the one he uses to write. He said his life was spared when the militants moved on after shooting him.
Hassan said the gunmen came armed with jerrycans of fuel that they used to torch the school’s administrative block and one of the dormitories.
“They burned the children alive,” he said.
He and teachers at the morgue of Potiskum General Hospital, a few miles from scene of the attack, said dozens of children from the 1,200-student school had escaped into the bush but have not been seen since.
The attackers killed 29 students and English teacher Mohammed Musa, who was shot in the chest, according to another teacher, Ibrahim Abdu. Police officers confirmed at least 30 deaths.
Boko Haram — whose stronghold is 143 miles away in the city of Maiduguri — and breakaway groups have killed more than 1,600 civilians in suicide bombings and other attacks since 2010, according to an Associated Press count.
President Goodluck Jonathan declared a state of emergency in the region May 14 and deployed thousands of troops to halt the insurgency, acknowledging that militants had taken control of some towns and villages.
Soldiers say they have killed and arrested hundreds of fighters. But the crackdown, which has included attacks with fighter jets and helicopter gunships on militant camps, appears to have driven the extremists into rocky mountains with caves, from which they emerge to attack schools and markets.
Faul reported from Lagos, Nigeria.