No fewer than 25 students in western Uganda have lost their lives as militants linked to the Islamic State group stuck in school.
It’s the country’s worst attack in years, police and local officials said Saturday.
The army said it was pursuing militants from the Allied Democratic Forces after the cross-border raid late Friday on a secondary school in the Kasese district near the Democratic Republic of Congo.
National police spokesman Fred Enanga said “A dormitory was burnt and food store looted” in the attack on Lhubiriha Secondary School in Mpondwe by the ADF, which is based in DR Congo’s strife-torn east.
“So far 25 bodies have been recovered from the school and transferred to Bwera Hospital”, he said, referring to a nearby town.
“Also recovered are eight victims, who remain in critical condition at Bwera hospital.”
The Resident Commissioner for Kasese, Joe Walusimbi, told AFP that several students were still missing and the deceased so far were all pupils.
“All of the dead so far are confirmed to be students at the school,” he said.
Police did not expand on the nature of the attack or how the victims died.
The school is less than two kilometers (1.2 miles) from the border of DR Congo, where ADF is primarily active and has been accused of killing thousands of civilians since the 1990s.
Enanga said the army and police units were in “hot pursuit” of the attackers who fled in the direction of Virunga National Park over the border in DR Congo.
Uganda Peoples’ Defence Forces spokesman Felix Kulayigye said the ADF may have also kidnapped some people.
“Our forces are pursuing the enemy to rescue those abducted and destroy this group,” he said in a statement.
– Deadly militia –
A vast expanse on the border with Uganda and Rwanda, Virunga is the oldest nature reserve in Africa and is renowned worldwide as a sanctuary for rare species, including mountain gorillas.
But militias — of which dozens are active in the mineral-rich eastern DR Congo — also use the park as a hideout.
Originally made up of mainly Muslim Ugandan rebels, ADF gained a foothold in eastern DR Congo in the 1990s.
Since 2019, some ADF attacks in eastern DR Congo have been claimed by the Islamic State group, which describes the fighters as a local offshoot, the Islamic State Central Africa Province.
ADF attacks in Uganda are less common and the toll from Friday’s attack is the worst in many years by any group.
In 2010, twin bombings in Kampala targeting fans watching the World Cup final left 76 people dead, with the Somalia-based Al-Shabaab group claiming responsibility.
It is not ADF’s first attack on a school in Uganda.
In June 1998, 80 students were burnt to death in their dormitories in an ADF attack on Kichwamba Technical Institute near the border of DR Congo. More than 100 students were abducted.
Uganda and DR Congo launched a joint offensive in 2021 to drive the ADF out of their Congolese strongholds, but the measures have so far failed to end the group’s attacks.
In March this year, the United States announced a reward of up to $5 million for information leading to the capture of the ADF’s leader.