The attack took place at Lhubiriha Secondary School in the town of Mpondwe western Uganda, close to the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
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. 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 attackers burnt down a dormitory and looted food from the school’s stores, national police spokesperson Fred Enanga said. 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.
Mr 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.
Bodies were taken to Bwera Hospital, officials say. Eight people still remain in a critical condition. Joe Walusimbi, an official representing Uganda’s president in Kasese, said that some of the victims “were burnt beyond recognition”.
The school, privately owned, is located in the Ugandan district of Kasese, about about a mile from the Congo border.
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.”
Officials blamed the attack on the militant group called the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), which has sworn allegiance to Isis.
Speaking near the scene of the attack, the commander of Ugandan troops in Congo said that the rebels spent two nights in Kasese before carrying out their attack. He gave no further details.
ADF rebels, when under pressure, “divert” their pursuers’ attention by splitting into small groups that then launch violent attacks in other places, said Major General Dick Olum, suggesting that the latest attack was an attempt by the rebels to ease battlefront pressure.
“A typical ADF signature,” he said, “because this is pressure. They are under huge pressure, and that’s what they have to do to show the world that they are still there, and to show the world that they can still do havoc.”
The ADF has been responsible for several attacks in Congo in recent years including killing 30 soldiers and three civillians in 2021. In March, at least 19 people were killed in Congo by suspected ADF extremists.
The group has been active since the 2000s and largely consists of local rebel fighters from DRC. It rarely claims responsibility for attacks. It was first publicly recognised by Isis as an affiliate in late 2018 after an attack on the armed forces of the DRC, according to the US state department.
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.
According to the United Nations, there are more than 100 armed groups operating in the DRC.
Associated Press contributed to this report
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