A school bus driver has taken 51 children hostage, telling them “no one is getting out of here alive”, before dousing the vehicle in petrol.
The Year 2 students were coming back from a sports outing at San Donato Milanese, in northern Italy, when the driver abruptly changed route, announcing he was taking them all hostage.
Armed with two canisters filled with petrol and a cigarette lighter, the driver menaced the children and the three adults on board, took their telephones and tied them up with an electrical cable, police say.
One of the children managed to get a call through to their parents who in turn phoned the police.
“I hurt my hands a bit picking [the phone up] up… we are all terrified,” the boy told Italian television.
Several reports cited the driver saying: “I want to put an end to it, I want to stop the deaths in the Mediterranean”.
The driver’s motives were not immediately clear and the references to the Mediterranean could be to the thousands of migrants who have crossed from North Africa to Italy, many of them losing their lives on the dangerous journey.
“He threatened us, said that if we moved he would pour the petrol and set it alight. He kept saying there were so many people in Africa who kept dying and that it was the fault of (deputy prime ministers) Di Maio and Salvini,” a rescued girl told Italian media.
‘It is a miracle’: Police say of the rescue
Police blocked the bus in the street and broke open the back windows to get the children out before the vehicle went up in flames.
“It is a miracle, it could have been carnage, the police were outstanding, blocking the bus and getting the children off,” Milan prosecutor Francesco Greco said, adding that he could not rule out terrorism links.
Reports said he was 47 years old, of Senegalese origin and had been a school bus driver since 2002.
He was divorced from his Italian wife and has two teenaged children. The interior ministry said in a statement that the driver had been previously caught driving while drunk and had sexually assaulted a minor.
“We are all terrified,” one boy told Italian television.
About a dozen children and two of the adults were taken to hospital for smoke inhalation while the driver also needed treatment for burns to his hands.
Interior ministry sources said the minister was looking at withdrawing the driver’s Italian citizenship, a move made possible by legislation adopted late last year.
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