DAMATURU, Nigeria — Islamic militants set fire to a locked dormitory at a school in northern Nigeria, then shot and slit the throats of students who tried to escape through windows during a pre-dawn attack Tuesday. At least 58 students were killed, including many who were burned alive.
They "slaughtered them like sheep" with machetes, and gunned down those who ran away, said one teacher, Adamu Garba.
Soldiers guarding a checkpoint near the coed government school were mysteriously withdrawn hours before it was targeted by the militants, said the spokesman for the governor of northeastern Yobe state.
Female students were spared in the attack, said the spokesman, Abdullahi Bego, though girls and women have been abducted in the past by militants of the Boko Haram movement, whose name means "Western education is forbidden."
This time, the insurgents went to the female dormitories and told the young women to go home, get married and abandon the Western education they said is anathema to Islam, Bego said. All of the dead were teenage boys or young men.
The militants, whose struggle for an Islamic state has killed thousands and made them the biggest threat to security in Africa's top oil producer, have increasingly preyed on civilians, both Muslim and Christian. Some 300 people have died in attacks this month alone.
Local officials buried the bodies of 29 victims and another 29 were taken to Damaturu Specialist Hospital, according to the hospital records and an Associated Press reporter who went to the mortuary. Most of the victims appeared to be between 15 and 20 years old, Bego said.
Eleven wounded survivors of the attack were being treated at the hospital.
Touring the smoldering ruins Tuesday at the Federal Government College of Buni Yadi, Gov. Ibrahim Gaidam decried the federal government's failure to protect the population.
"It is unfortunate that our children in schools are dying from lack of adequate protection from the federal government," Gaidam told reporters.
He called on President Goodluck Jonathan to deploy more troops to the region.
Jonathan, who rarely comments on individual attacks, said in a statement that he felt "immense sadness and anguish" by the loss of life at the school, and vowed that the military would "continue to prosecute the war against terror with full vigor, diligence and determination."
Garba said the militants locked the door of a dormitory where male students were sleeping, then set it on fire. Some students were burned alive in the attack that began around 2 a.m., he said.
The governor said it took hours for troops to arrive, giving the assailants plenty of time to set the rest of the school campus ablaze— six dormitories, the administrative building, staff quarters, classrooms, a clinic and the kitchen.
Bego, the governor's spokesman, said the governor will be looking into why the school was left unprotected. "The community complained to the governor that yesterday the military were withdrawn and then the attack happened," he said.
Soldiers from Damaturu, the state capital located some 45 miles (70 kilometers) away, did not arrive until noon, hours after the attackers had taken off, according to community leaders.
Military spokesman Eli Lazarus confirmed the attack, but could not give an exact death toll because soldiers were still gathering corpses. He had no immediate comment on the charge that soldiers withdrew before the attack.
Nigeria's military has reported arresting several soldiers accused of aiding and passing information to Boko Haram extremists; a senator has also been accused of similar charges.