KAMPALA, Uganda (AP) - Ugandan authorities recovered the bodies of 41 people, including 38 students, who were burned, shot or hacked to death after suspected rebels attacked a secondary school near the border with Congo, the local mayor said Saturday.
At least six people were abducted by the rebels, who fled across the porous border into Congo after the raid on Friday night, according to the Ugandan military.
Authorities blamed the massacre at Lhubiriha Secondary School in the border town of Mpondwe on the Allied Democratic Forces, a shadowy extremist group with ties to the Islamic State, which has been launching attacks for years from bases in volatile eastern Congo.
The victims included the students, one guard and two members of the local community who were killed outside the school, Mpondwe-Lhubiriha Mayor Selevest Mapoze told The Associated Press.
Mapoze said that some of the students suffered fatal burns when the rebels set fire to a dormitory and others were shot or hacked with machetes.
TOPSHOT - A boy is conforted at the scene of an attack in Mpondwe, Uganda, on June 17, 2023 at the Mpondwe Lhubiriha Secondary School. The death toll from an attack on a school in western Uganda by militants linked to the Islamic State group has rise
The raid, which happened around 11:30 p.m., involved about five attackers, the Ugandan military said. Soldiers from a nearby brigade who responded to the attack found the school on fire, "with dead bodies of students lying in the compound," military spokesman Brig. Felix Kulayigye said in a statement.
That statement cited 47 bodies, with eight other people wounded and being treated at a local hospital. Ugandan troops are "pursuing the perpetrators to rescue the abducted students" who were forced to carry looted food toward Congo's Virunga National Park, it said.
The school, co-ed and privately owned, is located in the Ugandan district of Kasese, about 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) from the Congo border.
Joe Walusimbi, an official representing Uganda’s president in Kasese, told the AP over the phone that some of the victims "were burnt beyond recognition."
Winnie Kiiza, an influential political leader and a former lawmaker from the region, condemned the "cowardly attack" on Twitter. She said "attacks on schools are unacceptable and are a grave violation of children’s rights," adding that schools should always be "a safe place for every student."
TOPSHOT - Uganda security forces are seen standing at the premises of an attack in Mpondwe, Uganda, on June 17, 2023 at the Mpondwe Lhubiriha Secondary School. The death toll from an attack on a school in western Uganda by militants linked to the Isl
The ADF has been accused of launching many attacks in recent years targeting civilians in remote parts of eastern Congo. It rarely claims responsibility for attacks.
The ADF has long opposed the rule of Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, a U.S. security ally who has held power in this East African country since 1986.
The group was established in the early 1990s by some Ugandan Muslims, who said they had been sidelined by Museveni’s policies. At the time, the rebels staged deadly attacks in Ugandan villages as well as in the capital, including a 1998 attack in which 80 students were massacred in a town not from the scene of the latest attack.
A Ugandan military assault later forced the ADF into eastern Congo, where many rebel groups are able to operate because the central government has limited control there.
The group has since established ties with the Islamic State group.
In March , at least 19 people were killed in Congo by suspected ADF extremists.
Ugandan authorities for years have vowed to track down ADF militants even outside Ugandan territory. In 2021, Uganda launched joint air and artillery strikes in Congo against the group.