Nigeria beefs up school security after attacks: sources

MAIDUGURI/DAMATURU, Nigeria Mon Sep 30, 2013 12:46pm EDT

A newspaper is displayed at a vendor stand in Ikoyi district in Lagos September 30, 2013. REUTERS/Akintunde Akinleye

A newspaper is displayed at a vendor stand in Ikoyi district in Lagos September 30, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Akintunde Akinleye

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MAIDUGURI/DAMATURU, Nigeria (Reuters) - After Islamists killed 40 students in a dormitory attack, Nigerian authorities are taking measures to improve security around schools, including stepping up patrols and putting armed soldiers outside them and guarding school buses.

Government sources told Reuters on Monday that the move aimed to restore confidence in the Western style schools that have been scenes of bloody massacres by Boko Haram militants fighting for an Islamic state, and who are seen as the main security threat to Africa's top oil producer.

A presidency source told Reuters President Goodluck Jonathan met senior security aides late on Sunday to discuss how to respond to the latest deadly shift in tactics by the insurgents.

"In the meeting they decided to provide special security cover for schools in the northeast and some other places prone to possible attacks," the source, who was present but who declined to be named, said.

"The president is not happy ... He directed security chiefs to work out a new strategy so this doesn't happen again."

Gunmen stormed an agricultural college in Gujba area of Yobe state, in northeastern Nigeria, on Sunday, dragging students out of their beds and shooting them dead - the latest evidence that a military offensive against Boko Haram since May has so far failed to quell the north's worsening violence.

"For now the state government has directed all round security surveillance on all schools across the state," Mohammed Lamin, Yobe commissioner for lower education, told Reuters by telephone. But he added: "the security agencies need to step up their operations to protect lives and property."

An educational official in Borno state, the birthplace of the insurgency to the north of Yobe, said the state had ordered an initial 30 buses with 100 seats each on it to carry day pupils to schools. Each would travel with two armed soldiers at the front and two at the back, he said.

Pro-government vigilante groups would search everyone getting on the buses at each stop, he said.

GUARDS

The provost of the college Molima Mato told Reuters the death toll was 41, after one of the wounded died in hospital.

"I wrote so many letters to the JTF (mixed military and police joint task force) asking for better security for my students and they always assured me," he said, but never stationed a protection force around the school.

His complaint was shared by human rights group Amnesty International, which in a statement on Monday called on Nigeria to take urgent measures to protect schools and students in the northeast from attacks.

Thousands have been killed since Boko Haram launched its uprising in 2009. As it has grown bolder and more deadly, it has also forged links with Islamists in the Sahara, including al Qaeda's north African branch.

Western governments are increasingly worried about the threat posed by Islamist groups across Africa, from Mali and Algeria in the Sahara, to Kenya in the east, where Somalia's al-Shabaab fighters killed at least 67 people in an attack on a Nairobi shopping mall a week ago.

Nigerian security officials say there is some evidence some Boko Haram members trained Somalia alongside al-Shabaab.

Attacks on schools seem aimed at frightening parents away from Western culture - Boko Haram means "Western education is sinful" in the northern Hausa language - and because the Islamists think they harbor vigilantes.

In July, suspected Boko Haram militants killed 27 students and a teacher at a school in Potiskum, 30 miles from the site of Sunday's attack.

Analysts say the army offensive has pushed the Islamists into vulnerable and harder to police rural areas.

(Reporting by Ibrahim Mshelizza in Maiduguri; Additional reporting Joe Hemba in Damaturu; Writing by Tim Cocks; editing by Ralph Boulton)

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