Boko Haram gunmen on Sunday opened fire in college dormitories in northeast Nigeria as the students slept, killing 40, in the latest massacre blamed on the Islamist insurgents.
All of the dead were students of the College of Agriculture in the town of Gujba in Yobe state, the area governor said in a statement.
The early morning attack was carried out by “Boko Haram terrorists who went into the school and opened fire on students” while they were sleeping, said Lazarus Eli, the military spokesman in Yobe.
Salamanu Ibrahim, a 23-year-old student at the college, said dozens of gunmen took part in the killing, bursting into dorm rooms and firing indiscriminately in the dark.
“The attackers went berserk,” he said in Yobe’s capital, Damaturu, about 30km away, where he fled along with hundreds of other students.
“They were fully armed with sophisticated rifles and improvised explosives,” and razed several college buildings after leaving the dorms, he said.
The extremists rode into the college in two double-cabin pickup all-terrain vehicles and on motorcycles, some dressed in Nigerian military uniforms, a surviving student, Ibrahim Mohammed, told The Associated Press. He said they appeared to know the layout of the college, attacking the four male hostels, but avoiding the one hostel reserved for women.
“We ran into the bush, nobody is left in the school now,” he said.
The office of Yobe Governor Ibrahim Gaidam put the death toll at 40, with four others injured.
In a previously scheduled television interview, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan said he instructed the nation’s security chiefs “to look at different ways of handling” the insurgency hours after learning of the latest bloodshed.
He also voiced exasperation at the targeting of students in the interview broadcast on several networks, saying: “Why did they kill them? ... You can ask and ask.”
The EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton called the slaughter “horrific.”
Yobe has seen a spate of attacks on schools and universities, all blamed on Boko Haram, an extremist group that has killed hundreds in its four-year insurgency.
Yobe State College of Agriculture Provost Molima Idi Mato told the AP that there were no security forces protecting the college. Two weeks ago, the state commissioner for education had begged schools and colleges to reopen and promised they would be guarded by soldiers and police.
The name Boko Haram, loosely translated, means “Western education is forbidden,” and the group has become notorious for slaughtering students.
In July in the town of Mamudo in Yobe, Islamists threw explosives and sprayed gunfire into dormitories in the middle of the night, killing 41 students. Suspected Boko Haram gunmen shot dead seven secondary-school students and two teachers in Damaturu in June.
The military has described the recent school attacks as a sign of desperation by the Islamists, claiming that they lack the capacity to strike anything but soft targets.
Defense officials have said that an offensive launched against Boko Haram in the middle of May has decimated the group and scattered its fighters across remote parts of the northeast, the insurgents’ traditional stronghold.
While many of the recent attacks have occurred in more remote areas, often targeting defenseless civilians, the unchecked killing has cast doubt on the success of the military campaign.
“Although there is increase in troop movement and ... more military hardware in the northeast, people were yet to see the kind of action on the ground that effectively nips criminal and terrorist activities in the bud,” the Yobe governor’s statement said.
Boko Haram has said it is fighting to create an Islamic state in Nigeria’s mainly Muslim north, but the group is believed to be made up of different factions with varying aims. The group has attacked churches, mosques, security forces and politicians, among other targets.
Additional reporting by AP