Police in Uganda say at least 25 people have been killed in a suspected rebel attack on a school near the border with the Democratic Republic of the Congo, with a government official saying people were also feared abducted.
Members of the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), a Ugandan group based in eastern DRC that has pledged allegiance to the ISIL (ISIS) group, attacked Lhubiriha Secondary School in Mpondwe, burning a dormitory and looting food late on Friday, police said on Saturday.
Lhubiriha school, which is privately owned, is located in the Ugandan district of Kasese, about two kilometres (1.2 miles) from the DRC border.
“So far 25 bodies have been recovered from the school and transferred to Bwera Hospital. Also recovered are eight victims, who remain in critical condition at Bwera Hospital,” Ugandan police said on Twitter.
It was not immediately clear how many of the victims were students.
Uganda’s defence spokesperson Felix Kulayigye said on Saturday that its forces were pursuing the attackers with the aim of rescuing those they abducted.
The local Daily Monitor newspaper, citing unnamed security sources, had reported that the attackers “abducted several” others before fleeing.
. @FredEnanga1 “Last night, we registered a terrorist attack by the ADF rebels, on Lhubirira secondary school, in Mpondwe, that is located about 2 kms, from the DRC border. A dormitory was burnt and a food store looted. So far 25 bodies have been recovered from the school and… pic.twitter.com/3WVfY2q9lz
— Uganda Police Force (@PoliceUg) June 17, 2023
Earlier the police said they were pursuing the attackers, who fled towards Virunga National Park in the DRC.
Joe Walusimbi, an official representing Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni in Kasese, told The Associated Press over the phone that authorities were trying to verify the number of victims and those abducted.
“All of the dead so far are confirmed to be students at the school,” he said. “Some bodies were burnt beyond recognition.”
Winnie Kiiza, an influential former politician from the region and opposition leader, 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.”
The ADF is accused of launching many attacks on civilians in recent years, notably on civilian communities in remote parts of eastern DRC. In April, the group was blamed for an attack there that left at least 20 people dead.
Ugandan authorities for years have promised to track down ADF fighters “at home and abroad”.
The group is believed to have been responsible for killing 36 people in March during an overnight attack on the village of Mukondi, in eastern DRC.
Ugandan authorities also blamed the group for deadly suicide bombings in the capital, Kampala, in 2021 and launched joint air and artillery strikes in the DRC against it.
The ADF, which the United States has deemed a “terrorist” group, is considered the deadliest of dozens of armed militias that roam mineral-rich eastern DRC.
In 1995, the ADF was formed by a coalition of rebel forces – including the Uganda Muslim Liberation Army and the National Army for the Liberation of Uganda (NALU) – to fight against the Museveni administration.
Over the years, the group was backed by subsequent governments of DRC that were keen on subverting Rwandan and Ugandan influence in the country.
But in 2013, the ADF began attacking Congolese military targets, leading the army to fight back. Consequently, its leader Jamil Mululu fled to Tanzania in 2015, where he was arrested and extradited to his home country to stand trial on charges of terrorism.
In recent years, the ADF has been linked to the armed group ISIL and has referred to itself as the Madina at Tauheed Wau Mujahideen – City of Monotheism and Holy Warriors (MTM).