Students among at least 37 killed in Uganda school attack by extreme militant group

Islamic State-linked Allied Democratic Forces launched attack on Friday night in Mpondwe in western Uganda near border with Congo

At least 37 people were killed — many of them students — and eight others were wounded when militants with an extremist group attacked a secondary school in western Uganda, authorities said on Saturday, in one of the deadliest terrorist attacks in the East African nation in years.

The group, known as the Allied Democratic Forces, attacked the school on Friday night in Mpondwe, a town near the border with Congo, a police spokesperson said on Twitter. During the attack, a dormitory was burned and food in a store was looted, said the spokesperson, Fred Enanga. All eight who were wounded were hospitalised in critical condition, he added.

Three people were rescued, but six students were abducted, a military spokesperson, Brig Gen Felix Kulayigye, said in a statement.

The attack, which began around 11:30 pm on Friday and which authorities said had been carried out by about five militants, is the deadliest that the Allied Democratic Forces has staged in Uganda since late 2021, when suicide bombers set off co-ordinated explosions in the capital, Kampala, that killed three people, sowing fears about the group’s reach and posing a vexing challenge for Ugandan authorities.


This weekend’s attack was widely condemned by lawmakers, opposition parties and western embassies, who called on the government to institute measures to prevent such actions in the future.

“We hope that investigations can begin in earnest so that the perpetrators of this crime face justice,” Bobi Wine, a Ugandan musician turned opposition leader, said on Twitter.

On Saturday afternoon, photographs and video shared on social media and television showed a heavy military presence near the school as aid workers arrived. Brig Gen Kulayigye said the chief of the country’s defence forces and the commander of the land forces were expected to visit the area. Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni also instructed officials from the Ministry of Education to visit the school.

The Mpondwe Lhubiriha Secondary School is a private school just a few miles from the busy border crossing with Congo. The school is about 200 miles from Kampala, in a poor farming community where many families cultivate and sell crops, including maize and cassava.

Many of the schools in Uganda, both public and private, have dormitories for boarding students. Photographs and videos from the school on Saturday showed the windows and corrugated roofs of the dormitories blackened with soot.

Maj Gen Dick Olum, commander of Uganda’s military operation in Congo, said at a meeting with residents that rebel members had spent two nights in the town before attacking the school. He said that some of the students had been burned or hacked to death, and that government pathologists would carry out DNA tests to identify the charred bodies.

Ugandan officials said the army and police were pursuing the attackers, who had fled toward Virunga National Park, a thick forest in neighbouring Congo that is home to endangered mountain gorillas. The militants used the abducted students to carry the looted food, the military said.

The government has deployed planes in the search, Maj Gen Olum said. He also called on the town’s residents to remain vigilant and report anything suspicious. The fact that this attack happened, the general said, “is a very shameful thing”.

Since 2021, the Ugandan government, in conjunction with the Congolese government, has launched an offensive against the Allied Democratic Forces, with the aim of rooting the group out from its bases in eastern Congo.

The two governments have provided few details about the military campaign, saying only that air and artillery strikes have weakened the group, which at one point pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group.

But regional observers have remained doubtful about the success of the operation, codenamed Shujaa, or “Bravery”, saying that the Allied Democratic Forces has continued to wreak havoc in eastern Congo, a lush, mineral-rich region where more than 100 rebel groups have overseen a wave of massacres and widespread destruction for decades.

Experts also say that Mr Museveni, who has been in power for almost four decades, was using the operation to bolster his image and to secure oilfields that are being dug near the border with Congo.

The Allied Democratic Forces was established in eastern Congo in 1995 by two groups opposed to Mr Museveni, one of them an Islamic sect. The group also received regional backing from leaders in other countries, including Sudan and Congo, who sought to undermine Mr Museveni’s rule.

This article originally appeared in the New York Times.