A suicide attacker disguised as a student detonated a bomb at a boarding school in northern Nigeria on Monday morning, killing nearly 50 boys who were between 10 and 20 years old, officials and witnesses said.
The bomber was wearing a school uniform when he appeared at the morning assembly at the Government Senior Science Secondary School in Potiskum, said Mohammed Abubakar, a local journalist who had just returned from the attack scene. When the school prefect asked the bomber why he was not wearing the school’s badge, he knelt and detonated the bomb, Mr. Abubakar said.
Afterward, witnesses said, the school was a chaotic scene of dead and maimed children, and the local hospital was packed with the wounded.
Northern Nigeria has long been crippled by an Islamist insurgency, and the militant group Boko Haram has targeted non-Quranic schools for at least the last three years, killing dozens of students and kidnapping hundreds of others. Monday’s bombing, which also wounded nearly 80 people, was one of the worst such attacks to date.
In Potiskum alone, a major market town on the principal east-west axis in Nigeria’s north, Boko Haram is believed to have attacked about 10 schools. In just over a year, five other schools in surrounding Yobe State have been assaulted by fighters believed to be members of the group. In February, at least 40 were killed at a boarding school in nearby Buni Yadi; in July 2013, 42 students died in an attack at a government school in a village near Potiskum.
Boko Haram did not claim responsibility for Monday’s bombing — it rarely does for individual attacks — but it has made what it calls “Western education” a particular focus of its bloody campaign against civilians and soldiers.
Despite the repeated school attacks and multiple student deaths, Nigeria’s military has not been deployed to guard schools of the north, and there was no military presence before the blast Monday, Mr. Abubakar said. The school was “not safe. It is porous,” he said, adding that even the school gate was broken.
A resident who lives nearby, Yahaya Wakili, said there was “no fencing,” adding, “Everybody can come inside the school.” The only protection came from a few local guards armed with sticks, Mr. Abubakar said.