DAMATURU, Nigeria (AP) — Suspected Islamic militants killed dozens of students in a pre-dawn attack Tuesday on a northeast Nigerian college, survivors said, setting ablaze a locked hostel and shooting and slitting the throats of those who escaped through windows. Some were burned alive.
Adamu Garba said he and other teachers who ran away through the bush estimate 40 students died in the assault that began around 2 a.m. Tuesday at the Federal Government College at Buni Yadi. It is a co-ed school about 70 kilometers (45 miles) south of Damaturu, the capital of Yobe state, and difficult to communicate with because extremists last year destroyed the cell phone tower there.
Soldiers still are gathering corpses so he could not give an exact number of dead, said military spokesman Capt. Eli Lazarus.
Garba, who teaches at a secondary school attached to the college, said the attackers first set ablaze the college administrative block, then moved to the hostels, where they locked students in and started firebombing the buildings.
At one hostel, he said, "students were trying to climb out of the windows and they were slaughtered like sheep by the terrorists who slit their throats. Others who ran were gunned down." He said students who could not escape were burned alive.
He spoke to The Associated Press in Damaturu, where he and several other teachers had made their way.
Tuesday's attack brings the toll from attacks blamed on Boko Haram to more than 300 civilians killed this month alone.
It is the first reported in Yobe state and the first school attack reported this year by suspected fighters of the terrorist network of Boko Haram — the nickname that means Western education is forbidden.
President Goodluck Jonathan told a news conference Monday night that the Boko Haram attacks were "quite worrisome" but that he was sure "We will get over it."
Thousands of Nigerians have lost family members, houses, businesses, their belongings and livelihoods in the 4-year-old rebellion.
And it likely will anger regional officials who charge the military is losing its war to halt the Islamic uprising in the northeast of Africa's biggest oil producer. The military has said recent attacks are being perpetrated by militants who have escaped a sustained aerial bombardment and ground assaults on forest hideouts along the border with Cameroon.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Monday condemned the "unspeakable violence and acts of terror" and said the United States is helping Nigerian authorities to develop a comprehensive approach "to combat the threat posed by Boko Haram while protecting civilians and ensuring respect for human rights."
But survivors and local officials charge they get no protection. And refugees who have fled to neighboring states have said that they are fleeing the extremists as much as the fallout from a military campaign in which soldiers are accused of gross human rights abuses including executions of people suspected of helping Boko Haram.
"Everybody is living in fear," local government chairman Maina Ularamu told the AP after Izghe village was attacked twice in a week this month — with militants first killing 106 and burning hundreds of thatched huts, then returning to kill another three people and setting ablaze what little remained of the settlement in neighboring Adamawa state.
"There is no protection. We cannot predict where and when they are going to attack. People can't sleep with their eyes closed," Ularamu said.
Associated Press writer Ibrahim Abdulaziz contributed to this report from Yola, Nigeria.