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Suicide Bomber In School Uniform Targets High School


Let's report now on another attack on a school in Nigeria. We heard months ago about Nigerian school girls kidnapped by Islamist extremists. Now we have word of an attack on a high school in Nigeria. No one has yet claimed responsibility. NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton is in the Nigerian city Lagos and is covering the story. Ofeibea, what happened?

OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON, BYLINE: The latest we've heard, Steve, is that about 2,000 high school students at the - at a boys' school in Potiskum in northeastern Nigeria were gathering for weekly assembly, were just about to be addressed by the principal, when a bomb ripped through the assembly hall. We are being told that the apparent suicide bomber was dressed in school uniform and probably had whatever explosives they were tucked in his rucksack - the normal sort of bag that young people carry to school all over the world and here in Nigeria. And we're being told, Steve, that between 35 and 48 students killed outright - or at least people from the school - and dozens more injured at - and they've been taken to the nearby hospital.

INSKEEP: How common have suicide bombings been in Nigeria?

QUIST-ARCTON: We are seeing them almost weekly. And as you know, Boko Haram, this Islamist group that is trying to carve out a caliphate - an Islamic caliphate in northeastern Nigeria and impose Islamic law, is blamed for most of these attacks. But we have seen a string of attacks in the Northeast. In villages and towns, hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced. I'm just back from the Northeast. I've been to a camp. There were 10,000 people - women and children. Now, the government said at the middle of last month - about a month ago - that they had brokered a peace deal. They had brokered a cease-fire agreement with Boko Haram. And just last week, 10 days ago, Boko Haram's purported leader, Abubakar Shekau, denied this and said about the schoolgirls, oh, forget about them. They have been married off to Boko Haram fighters, and they have converted to Islam, which is devastating news for the families of these girls who've been missing for more than six months.

INSKEEP: OK, so we don't have a claim of responsibility on this horrifying attack on the school today, but we do have this group, Boko Haram, which has targeted schools, targeted education. That seemed to be part of the reason they went after the Nigerian schoolgirls earlier this year. Does this - this attack fit, in any way, previous Boko Haram attacks - this suicide bombing on a school?

QUIST-ARCTON: Certainly those pointing the accusing the finger are saying so. And, of course, Boko Haram means Western education is sinful. Every time they have attacked a school - boys' or girls' - they have said, go home - stop this Western education to the girls - get married and live a normal life. School is not for you.

But let me just say, Steve, that this time, people are so angry and, I think, so fearful and so tense that, apparently, they threw stones and were shouting at the military who rushed to the scene because the soldiers are seen as not having done enough to try to end this insurgency. And President Goodluck Jonathan is under pressure to do something. People are saying, it has gone on for too long - five years, getting worse and worse. Hundreds of thousands of people displaced, thousands of people killed - elections coming up in February next year. Do something about it now.

INSKEEP: NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton is in Lagos. Ofeibea, thanks very much.

QUIST-ARCTON: Always a pleasure, Steve. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ofeibea Quist-Arcton is an award-winning broadcaster from Ghana and is NPR's Africa Correspondent. She describes herself as a "jobbing journalist"—who's often on the hoof, reporting from somewhere.