At least 37 people are dead and eight injured after an attack on a secondary school in western Uganda on Friday, according to authorities, with fears that the majority of those killed are students.

Defense spokesman Felix Kulayigye said in a statement Saturday that around five suspected rebels from the Allied Democratic Forces group were involved in the attack on the private school, which he said killed 37 people. Eleven people were rescued, including eight who were taken to a government hospital, while six were abducted and forced to carry food supplies looted from the school, he said.

“On arrival, the school was found burning with dead bodies of students lying in the compound,” according to the statement.

There have been conflicting accounts of the exact toll numbers. Local mayor Selevest Mapoze told the Associated Press that the death toll stood at 41, including 38 students, one guard and two members of the local community. Mapoze said some of the students suffered fatal burns after the attackers set fire to a dormitory, while others were shot or hacked with machetes.

Authorities have blamed the attack in the town of Mpondwe — about 1.2 miles from the border with the Democratic Republic of the Congo — on the ADF rebel group.

“Our forces are pursuing the enemy to rescue those abducted and destroy this group,” the spokesperson for the Ministry of Defense tweeted Saturday, noting the attack began at 11:30 p.m. local time the night before.

“A hot pursuit by the UPDF [Uganda Peoples’ Defense Forces] and the police is ongoing, toward Virunga National Park,” police spokesman Fred Enanga said in a statement overnight. “We do offer our deepest condolences to the families of those who have been killed, and offer our prayers and thoughts to those who have been wounded.”

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The ADF was founded by Ugandan exiles in the Congo in 1995 with the aim of toppling Uganda’s government. The United Nations said in 2020 that the group may have committed crimes against humanity and war crimes, including abductions, civilian killings and use of child soldiers.

The U.S. State Department designated the ADF an Islamic State affiliate as well as a Foreign Terrorist Organization in 2021, according to the Congressional Research Service.


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