Islamists Kill at Least 30 in Nigeria School Attack

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Islamic militants attacked a boarding school in northeast Nigeria, killing at least 30 students and one teacher. Some of the students were burned alive in the latest school attack. The attackers set fire to buildings and shot students as they tried to flee.  Parents, unable to identify the burned and hot bodies, could be heard screaming with grief.

The attack was blamed on Boko Haram, an Islamist terrorist organization whose name means "Western education is sacrilege."

Boko Haram rejects all Western cultural influences like modern schooling; its goal is to revive the era when much of West Africa was ruled by Islamic empires that thrived off the trans-Saharan trade.

The attack was the deadliest of at least three on schools since the military recently launched an offensive to try to crush the group.

Dozens of children from the 1,200-student school escaped into the bushes and have not been seen since.  

Musa Hassan, a 15-year-old, who survived the attack, related details of the attack and how he was awakened by one of the attackers who held a gun to him. "We were sleeping when we heard gunshots. When I woke up, someone was pointing a gun at me," Hassan said from his bed at the Potsikum General Hospital.

Hassan recalled how the gunmen came armed with cans of fuel that they used to torch the school's administrative building and one of the dormitories. "They burned the children alive," he said. Some bodies were burned beyond recognition and could not be identified, so many parents do not know if their children survived and fled or died.

The United Nation's Children Fund (UNICEF) called upon the entire world to condemn the attack.  In response to UNICEF, Abu Zinnira, a Boko Haram spokesman said, "We have established that the youth in Borno and Yobe are against our course. They have connived with security operatives and are actively supporting the government of Nigeria in its war against us. We have also resolved to fight back."

President Goodluck Jonathan declared a state of emergency in the region where the school is located and sent in troops to try to stop the militants fighting to create a breakaway Islamic state.

Nigerian military sources claim to have been successful in regaining control of the area, the states of Adamawa, Borno and Yobe. However, since the area covers some 155,000 square kilometers (60,000 square miles) it is becoming increasingly difficult for the military to patrol the area. Soldiers say they have killed and arrested hundreds of fighters.

The crackdown, which includes attacks on militant camps, appears only to have driven the extremists into caves in the mountains, from which they emerge to attack schools and markets. The group has increasingly targeted civilians, including health workers on vaccination campaigns, teachers and government workers.

As farmers have been driven from their land by the extremists and by military roadblocks, food shortages have become a major problem in the area. This adds to the problems of a people already hampered by the military’s shutdown of cell phone service as well as a ban on using satellite telephones.

Jonathan's administration has offered amnesty and peace talks to members who renounce violence, but Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau has repeatedly rejected any negotiations.

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Meira Svirsky

Meira Svirsky is the editor of ClarionProject.org