Tragic Incident at School in Western Uganda Claims Lives of Students
A devastating incident unfolded at Lhubiriha secondary school in Mpondwe, western Uganda, resulting in the loss of approximately 40 lives, predominantly students. The attack was carried out by rebels believed to be affiliated with the Islamic State group (IS). At least eight individuals remain in critical condition, while authorities report that several students, primarily girls, have been abducted.
The Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), a rebel group based in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), has been held responsible for this heinous act. The attack occurred around 11:30 PM local time on Friday, within the Kasese district of western Uganda. The school, which houses over 60 students, was targeted by a group of around five suspected ADF rebels.
According to the Ugandan army, the attackers set fire to the school buildings and looted the food store. Tragically, some students were burned or hacked to death, as confirmed by Maj Gen Dick Olum. Survivors have recounted how the assailants wielded machetes against the students before throwing a bomb into one of the dormitories. The ages of the victims are not yet known, and DNA tests will be necessary to identify badly burnt bodies.
Reports suggest that the attackers also set fire to the students’ mattresses and detonated bombs in the surrounding region. Disturbing images of the burning school buildings have circulated on social media platforms. The exact number of casualties and missing students remains unclear, as does the involvement of members from the wider community.
The bodies of the deceased have been transferred to Bwera Hospital, and the Ugandan army has launched a pursuit of the ADF insurgents, tracking them towards the Virunga National Park in the DRC. This pursuit aims to rescue the abducted students and dismantle the rebel group.
It is disheartening that this tragic incident follows a recent attack by suspected ADF fighters in a village near the Ugandan border in the DRC, causing over 100 villagers to flee to Uganda. However, they have since returned. Notably, this assault on the school, located near the DRC border, marks the first attack on a Ugandan school in 25 years. In 1998, an ADF attack on Kichwamba Technical Institute resulted in the death of 80 students, with over 100 students being abducted.
Richard Moncrieff, an expert in the region, suggests that the ADF may target schools to recruit children and create shockwaves through violence. The ADF was originally formed in eastern Uganda in the 1990s, with grievances against the government’s treatment of Muslims. After their defeat in 2001, they relocated to the DRC’s North Kivu province. The group’s founder, Jamil Makulu, was arrested in 2015 and is currently held in a Ugandan prison. Musa Seka Baluku, his successor, reportedly pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group in 2016. However, it wasn’t until April 2019 that IS acknowledged their activities in the area.
The ADF has been operating from within the DRC for the past two decades, while various IS-affiliated militant groups continue to pose a threat across the Middle East and Africa. Despite the near-defeat of the Islamic State as a whole, these affiliated groups remain active.
This devastating attack serves as a reminder of the ongoing security challenges faced by Uganda and the neighboring regions. Efforts to combat rebel groups and ensure the safety of communities will require continued collaboration and vigilance.