POTISKUM, Nigeria (AP) — Suspected Islamic extremists attacked an agricultural college in the dead of night, gunning down dozens of students as they slept in dormitories and torching classrooms in an ongoing Islamic uprising in northeast Nigeria, the school's provost said.
As many as 50 students may have been killed in the attack that began at about 1 a.m. Sunday in rural Gujba, Provost Molima Idi Mato of the Yobe State College of Agriculture, told The Associated Press.
"They attacked our students while they were sleeping in their hostels, they opened fire at them," he said.
He said he could not give an exact death toll as security forces still are recovering bodies.
The Nigerian military has collected 42 bodies and transported 18 injured students to Damaturu Specialist Hospital, said a military intelligence official, who insisted on anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to the press.
The school's other 1,000 enrolled students have fled the college that is about 40 kilometers (25 miles) north of the scene of similar school attacks around Damaturu town, said provost Mato.
He said there were no security forces stationed at the college despite government assurances that they would be deployed. The state commissioner for education, Mohammmed Lamin, called a news conference two weeks ago urging all schools to reopen and promising protection from soldiers and police.
Most schools in the area closed after militants on July 6 killed 29 pupils and a teacher, burning some alive in their hostels, at Mamudo outside Damaturu.
Northeastern Nigeria is under a military state of emergency to battle an Islamic uprising prosecuted by Boko Haram militants who have killed more than 1,700 people since 2010 in their quest for an Islamic state. Boko Haram means Western education is forbidden in the local Hausa language.
Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau last week published a video to prove he is alive and prove false military claims that they might have killed him in an ongoing crackdown.
Government and security officials claim they are winning their war on terror in the northeast but Sunday's attack and others belie those assurances.
The Islamic extremists have killed at least 30 other civilians in the past week.
Twenty-seven people died in separate attacks Wednesday and Thursday night on two villages of Borno state near the northeast border with Cameroon, according to the chairman of the Gamboru-Ngala local government council, Modu-Gana Bukar Sheriiff.
The military spokesman did not respond to requests for information on those attacks, but a security official confirmed the death toll. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to give information to journalists.
Also Thursday, police said suspected Islamic militants killed a pastor, his son and a village head and torched their Christian church in Dorawa, about 100 kilometers from Damaturu. They said the gunmen used explosives to set fire to the church and five homes.
Meanwhile, farmers and government officials are fleeing threats of imminent attacks from Boko Haram in the area of the Gwoza Hills, a mountainous area with caves that shelter the militants despite repeated aerial bombardments by the military.
A local government official said there had been a series of attacks in recent weeks and threats of more. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he feared for his life, said Gwoza town was deserted when he visited it briefly under heavy security escort on Thursday.
He said militants had chased medical officers from the government hospital in Gwoza, which had been treating some victims of attacks. And he said they ahd burned down three public schools in the area.
The official said the Gwoza local government has set up offices in Maiduguri, the state capital to the north.
More than 30,000 people have fled the terrorist attacks to neighboring Cameroon and Chad and the uprising combined with the military emergency has forced farmers from their fields and vendors from their markets.
The attacks come as Nigeria prepares to celebrate 52 years of independence from Britain on Tuesday and amid increasing political jockeying as the country gears up for presidential elections next year.
Faul reported from Lagos, Nigeria. Associated Press writer Haruna Umar in Maiduguri, Nigeria, contributed to this report.