Kasese Attack: The agony of identifying loved ones
Jun 17, 2023
New Vision online brings you an account of what happened during the ADF attack on Friday night (June 16, 2023) and the developments thereafter.
Security has heavily been deployed on the school and no one is being allowed into it. (Photos by Samuel Amanyire)
By Steven Denis Matege and Samuel Amanyire
Journalists @New Vision
13:00 (June 18, 2023): Pope Francis prays for victims
Pope Francis on Sunday during his weekly Angelus prayer at St Peter's Square in the Vatican city said: "I pray for the young student victims of the brutal attack against a school in western Uganda".
Pope Francis addresses the crowd from the window of the apostolic palace overlooking St Peter's square during the Angelus prayer in Vatican on June 18, 2023. (AFP Photo)
7:00am (June 18, 2023): The pain of identifying loved ones
Wails can be heard from relatives and loved ones of those that perished in the attack suspected to have been orchestrated by ADF rebels. The visibly distraught relative, many with tears rolling down their cheeks, have thronged Bwera Hospital in the hope of identifying their lives ones.
For those whose dead relatives were identified cannot hold back their tears as the bodies are placed into coffins to be taken for burial.
However, it will be a long wait for many because some of the attack victims were bombed and burnt beyond recognition, which calls for DNA 🧬 tests to be conducted. The charred remains of the victim were reportedly transferred to Fort Portal city where the tests can confirm their identities.
Are they still alive or dead?
It is even more painful for those that had students at the school and are yet to know their fate — whether they were burnt in the fire or abducted or the perpetrators used them to carry their loot.
Day two after attack
19:00, June 17, 2023: UN secretary general deeply sorry
UN secretary general Antonio Guterres has condemned the attack and extended his heartfelt condolences to the families of the victims and the Government and people of Uganda.
In a statement issued on June 17, 2023, by Farhan Haq, the deputy spokesperson for the Secretary-General, Guterres calls for the immediate release of those abducted.
"The Secretary-General reiterates the importance of collective efforts, including through enhanced regional partnerships, to tackle cross-border insecurity between the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Uganda and restore durable peace in the area," the statement reads in part.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres speaks during a press briefing on climate at UN headquarters in New York on June 15, 2023. (AFP Photo)
19:00 IGAD sends condolences, condemns 'cowardly and senseless act'
The Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) condemns attack through Nuur Mohamud Sheekh, who is the spokesperson of IGAD executive secretary Dr Workneh Gebeyehu.
Sheekh tweeted: "We stand in strong condemnation of the cowardly & senseless terrorist attack that took place at #Lhubirira Secondary School in Kasese District. Our heartfelt condolences go out to the families & friends of those who lost their lives, & we wish a speedy recovery to the injured. The @GovUganda & people of #Uganda have our full support and solidarity during this difficult time".
19:00: African Union chief calls for a regional approach to threats
In reaction to the attack, African Union Commission chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat 'strongly' condemned what he called a heinous and shocking terrorist attack.
In a statement issued on AU's website on June 17, 2023, Mahamat says:
"The Chairperson reiterates the need for an urgent holistic regional approach to address the threat posed by all terrorist and armed groups operating from the Democratic Republic of Congo, to ensure regional security".
He also reaffirmed the "African Union's continued and unwavering solidarity with the Ugandan government and people during this painful period of national loss".
18:30 Families received sh5m donation from the Government
Government of Uganda, through the education ministry, has donated Uganda shillings five million to each of the 42 family members that lost their dear ones in the Kasese ADF attack.
Upon meeting parents and other relatives of the 41 students that perished in the attack higher education minister John Chrysestom Muyingo, while representing his senior, Mrs Janet Museveni, who is also the First Lady, said the money was intended to support the bereaved families to conduct successful burials of their dear ones.
18:00 Rwenzururu King Mumbere tells subjects not to be intimidated
Rwenzururu king Charles Wesley Mumbere Irema-Ngoma, whose kingdom is headquartered in Kasese district, has condemned the June 16, 2023, attack in which suspected Allied Democratic Front (ADF) terrorist remnants massacred 39 Mpondwe secondary school students in Mpondwe Lhubiriha town council.
Describing the attack as “senseless killings of the children by evil bandits,” the Omusinga (king)urged the Abanyarwenzururu (Rwenzururu subjects and allies) to stand firm against the terrorist acts.
“I encourage Abanyarwenzururu not to be intimidated by our enemies who want to scare people and frustrate the Government's efforts of bringing me home,” he said in a message to New Vision June 17.
Omusinga Mumbere was on June 13 released and his 217 co-accused after Director of Public Prosecutions Jane Frances Abodo, dropped all the criminal charges against him with 217 other co-accused.
According to Rwenzururu premier Joseph Kule Muranga, the Omusinga is slated to be in Kasese in a month’s time.
Muranga was addressing thousands of residents who swarmed Rwenzori Square in Kasese Municipality to witness the return of the former Rwenzururu inmates who were also released along with the Omusinga.
17:30: Toro calls attackers Devil worshippers
Toro Kingdom prime minister Steven Kiyingi described the ADF attackers as “Devil worshippers".
“How do you just kill innocent children seeking an education and trying to live,” the audibly sad premier, referring to the photos of the dead students some of them burnt, said.
17:00 Justice will prevail, says First Lady and Minister of Education and Sports
The First Lady, who is also the Minister for Education and Sports, Mrs Janet Museveni, has condemned the ADF attack on Mpondwe Lhubiriha Secondary School in Kasese district, remarking that justice will prevail.
Addressing journalists at State House Nakasero on Saturday evening, Mrs Museveni said the government has gathered information on the matter, adding that everything is under control. Follow this link for more details about her address. https://www.newvision.co.ug/category/news/first-lady-condemns-kasese-attack-162995
15:00 UNICEF condemns ADF attack
United Nations Children’s Fund – UNICEF representative to Uganda Dr (PhD) Munir Safieldin has condemned the attack on the school in Kasese.
In a statement issued in the afternoon of Saturday, Safieldin demands the immediate release and safe return of the abducted learners.
Safieldin also extends UNICEF's 'sincere condolences to the families and friends of the deceased'.
“We stand in solidarity with the students, the teaching staff, the school authorities, families of those impact and the people of Uganda in this sad moment,” he said.
“Schools are a safe place for all learners and must never be attacked. We appeal to all those involved in the Friday attack to respect schools and the rights of every child to learn in safe and protected environment,” he adds.
Dr Munir Safieldin of Unicef Uganda. (Courtesy photo)
12:00: ADF looking for soft targets
Major General Dick Olum, the overall commander of Operation Shujja in the Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) says ADF rebels have resorted to soft targets (schools and civilians) as a way of hurting the Government of Uganda after failing to successfully attack the UPDF in eastern DR Congo.
Operation Shujaa, the joint Uganda and Congolese assault against ADF in the eastern DRC.
According to Olum, the ADF attacked civilians in a town called Kasinde in DRC last week. The attack resulted in a refugee influx into Uganda.
However, the land forces and intelligence, Olum says, are doing all they can to at leat recover the abducted students and maybe get the ADF and do the necessary action on them.
Olum has, therefore, called for calm among the residents now that they are doing all they can to ensure that there is security on the border.
Dick Olum (File photo)
10:00am Army speaks on attack
Defence ministry spokesperson Felix Kulaigye says the attack happened at 11:30pm on Friday night and that "Our forces are pursuing the enemy to rescue those abducted and destroy this group".
Kulaigye adds that President Yoweri Museveni has dispatched education ministry officials to commiserate with the school.
According to Kulaigye, the Chief of Defence Forces and and Commander Land Forces are "joining the Division Commander on the ground for spot assessment".
9:30am: Toll at 42
Death toll in Kasese ADF attack currently stands at 42.
- 22 students killed in attack
- 17 Students killed by bomb as rebels left the school
- 2 residents
- 1 security guard
Authorities are yet to establish the actual number of those abducted by the rebels.
When the rebels attacked Kasese district-based Lhubirira Secondary School in Mpondwe town council under the cover of darkness on Friday, survivor accounts indicate that the whole area was also facing an electricity blackout. The blackout was a recipe for the success of the rebel attack on the facility.
I hid behind dead bodies, says a student
Mumbere Bright, one of the three students who survived the attack says he hid behind the dead bodies of fellow students to live to see another day.
According to him, the rebels shot the locks of the door to the dormitory after failing to forcibly enter the structure.
"The rebels immediately shot dead the student who was at the entrance after entering the dormitory," Mumbere says.
"The rebels asked for Muslims among the students, but there were none. The rebels said they do not kill fellow believers. They slaughtered every student in their sight using pangas, axes and sharp objects," he adds.
According to Mumbere, several students hid under their beds in vain as the rebels shot indiscriminately. Mumbere only survived because he was sandwiched between fellow students who did not make it.
Military has deployed at site of attack
Military has deployed at site of attack
'We do not kill breastfeeding women'
The school director's wife, Masika Brenda, says she survived being killed by the rebels because she was breastfeeding.
In her account, when the rebels entered her house, which is also within the school compound, they were forced to shoot the lock of the bedroom door.
The rebels found Masika breastfeeding her baby in an attempt to muffle its cries so that they would hopefully leave the area without raiding her bedroom.
On seeing her breastfeeding, the rebels told her that their beliefs discourage them from killing breastfeeding women.
Instead, the rebels chased her and her children from the house and set it ablaze.
The rebels made off with three sacks of posho and two of beans from Masika's store.
25 bodies recovered from the school
A total of 25 bodies have been recovered from Kasese district-based Lhubirira Secondary School,in Mpondwe town council after an overnight attack by ADF rebels.
Police say the attack orchestrated by the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) rebels on Friday night, also saw a dormitory burnt and food store looted.
Lhubirira Secondary School is located about 2kms, from the Uganda-DRC border.
"So far, 25 bodies have been recovered from the school and transferred to Bwera Hospital. Also recovered are 8 victims, who remain in critical condition at Bwera Hospital," Police spokesperson Fred Enanga said in a statement on Saturday morning.
According to Enanga, a hot pursuit by the Uganda People's Defence Forces and the Police is ongoing, towards Virunga National Park.
"We do offer our deepest condolences to the families of those who have been killed and offer our prayers and thoughts to those who have been wounded," the Police spokesperson said and added that more details would be availed in due course.
Previous ADF attacks
December 12, 2022:
Several ADF rebels sneaked into Uganda suspected to be 40 in number, crossed from DRC to Uganda in Ntoroko district via River Semuliki. but were repulsed by the Uganda People's Defence Forces.
The ADF rebels were first spotted by the civilian population in Bweramule sub-county.
These immediately shared information with security, which prompted UPDF to respond swiftly, killed 17 rebels and captured 13 of them.
15 guns, two walkie-talkies and some improvised explosive devices were recovered from the rebels.
April 7, 2023:
ADF rebels killed 20 people in easter DRC near the village of Enebula.
January 15, 2023:
A bomb killed at least 10 people and wounded 39 others after ripping through a church in eastern DR Congo, in an attack blamed on ADF.
June 8, 1998:
ADF rebels had raided Kichwamba Technical Institute in Kabarole, burning 80 students to death and abducting more than 100.
ADF rebels gained a foothold in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo in the 1990s after they were chased from Uganda. The rebels have since been accused of killing thousands of civilians, becoming the deadliest of scores of outlawed forces in the deeply troubled region.
Since 2019, some ADF attacks in eastern DRC have been claimed by the Islamic State, which describes the group as its local offshoot, the Islamic State Central Africa Province.
More visible and more lethal
In 2021, the United States labelled the ADF a "foreign terrorist organisation" with links to the Islamic State group. The militia is active mainly in North Kivu and neighbouring Ituri province.
The same year, a joint Congolese-Ugandan military operation began targeting the ADF inside the DRC.
But attacks have continued.
A report by independent experts for the UN Security Council, released in December, said the ADF had "continued its geographic expansion" despite the Congolese-Ugandan military operation, killing at least 370 civilians since April 2022.
It also warned that the ADF was changing tactics: opting for "more visible and more lethal" bomb attacks in urban areas.
In April last year, for example, a woman detonated a suicide vest in a bar in North Kivu's capital Goma, according to independent UN experts. Six people died in the attack and 16 more were wounded.
The United States government in February 2023 indicated that ADF remains an unresolved threat to regional security.
US Ambassador to Uganda Natalie Brown in the same month reiterated the US’ unwavering support to the efforts aimed at eliminating the security threat posed by the ADF not only to Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), but the entire region of east and central Africa.
She told reporters in Kampala that the concerted regional efforts to eliminate the ADF and other rebel groups based in the eastern DRC, were critically important in ending human suffering and fostering economic development.