Suspected Anti-Western-Education Group Guns Down 50 Students in Nigeria

At least 50 university students were massacred in their sleep by suspected Boko Haram militants in northeastern Nigeria Sunday, the latest in a series of attacks against schools in the unstable region.

Suspected Islamic extremists, arriving on motorbikes and in all-terrain vehicles, attacked the agricultural college at roughly 1 am Sunday, gunning down students in four male-only dormitories — avoiding the women's dorm — and setting fire to classrooms, shooting still more who tried to run away.

Almost all those killed were Muslims boys between the ages of 18 and 22.

"They attacked our students while they were sleeping in their hostels, they opened fire at them," the Provost Molima Idi Mato of Yobe State College of Agriculture said to The Associated Press.

The region has been in a state of emergency since May 14, after Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan ordered an operation against Boko Haram; an insurgent group that is trying to overthrow the Nigerian government in order to create an Islamic state. Roughly 1,700 people have been killed by Boko Haram since 2010.

“You can never solve any of these problems with military solutions," a former Chief of Defence Staff told a Nigerian news site, referring to Boko Haram. "The military can always be an enabling force. They will sensitise; they will stabilise the area. It is a political issue; it is a social issue; it is an economic issue, and until these issues are addressed, the military can never give you a solution."

The group — whose name in the local language means "Western education is forbidden" — initially focused its efforts on fighting Western education, and has launched a multitude of attacks against schools in the area. In fact, most of the region's educational establishments closed down entirely after at least 29 students and a teacher were killed by the militants on July 6 — some of them were burned alive in their dorms.

On Tuesday, President Barack Obama spoke with his Nigerian counterpart, re-asserting his vows to put a stop to terrorist groups, especially Boko Haram, which he called "one of the most vicious terrorist organizations in the world." He added that it "presents an extraordinary security challenge for the people of Nigeria, and we want to be cooperative in that process of building capacity inside Nigeria to deal with that terrorist threat.” The recent terrorist attacks in the area have forced over 30,000 people to flee to neighboring Cameroon and Chad.