DAMATURU, Nigeria (Reuters) – Suspected Islamist militants stormed a college in northeastern Nigeria and shot dead around 40 male students, some of them while they slept early yesterday, witnesses said.
The gunmen, thought to be members of rebel sect Boko Haram, attacked one hostel, took some students outside before killing them and shot others trying to flee, people at the scene told Reuters.
Boko Haram, which wants to establish an Islamic state in northern Nigeria, has intensified attacks on civilians in recent weeks in revenge for a military offensive against its insurgency. Several schools, seen as the focus of Western-style education and culture, have been targeted. President Goodluck Jonathan described the assault as “the creation of the devil” and suggested it might be time to change tactics against the rebels, without going into details.
“They started gathering students into groups outside, then they opened fire and killed one group and then moved onto the next group and killed them. It was so terrible,” said one surviving student Idris, who would only give his first name.
“They came with guns around 1 am (2400 GMT) and went directly to the male hostel and opened fire on them … The college is in the bush so the other students were running around helplessly as guns went off and some of them were shot down,” said Ahmed Gujunba, a taxi driver who lives by the college.
Bodies were recovered from dormitories, classrooms and outside in the undergrowth yesterday, a member of staff at the college told Reuters, asking not to be named. Boko Haram and spin-off Islamist groups like the al Qaeda-linked Ansaru have become the biggest security threat in Africa’s second largest economy and top oil exporter.
Western governments are increasingly worried about the threat posed by Islamist groups across Africa, from Mali and Algeria in the Sahara, to Kenya in the east, where Somalia’s al-Shabaab fighters killed at least 67 people in an attack on a Nairobi shopping mall a week ago.
A Reuters witness counted 40 bloody corpses piled on the floor at the main hospital in Yobe state capital Damaturu yesterday, mostly of young men believed to be students.
The bodies were brought from the college, which is in Gujba, a rural area 30 miles (50km) south of Damaturu and around 130 miles from Nigerian borders with Cameroon and Niger.
State police commissioner Sanusi Rufai said he suspected Boko Haram was behind the attack but gave no details.
Thousands have been killed since Boko Haram launched its uprising in 2009, turning itself from a clerical movement opposed to Western culture into an armed militia with growing links to al Qaeda’s West African wing.