Driver takes 51 kids hostage, sets bus on fire

Forensic officers and firefighters near the torched wreckage of a school bus (above) carrying 51 children that was hijacked on Wednesday.
Forensic officers and firefighters near the torched wreckage of a school bus (above) carrying 51 children that was hijacked on Wednesday. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
One child was later led to safety by an officer (above) after the hostages were rescued.
One child was later led to safety by an officer (above) after the hostages were rescued.PHOTO: EPA-EFE
Ousseynou Sy, an Italian driver of Senegalese origin, "acted as a lone wolf", said the Milan authorities.
Ousseynou Sy, an Italian driver of Senegalese origin, "acted as a lone wolf", said the Milan authorities.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

ROME • Italy was in shock yesterday after the dramatic rescue of 51 children taken hostage by their school bus driver, who torched the vehicle in protest at migrant deaths in the Mediterranean.

The Italian driver of Senegalese origin on Wednesday hijacked the bus as it was taking the 12-and 13-year-olds from a gym to school in Crema, east of Milan. Armed with two petrol canisters and a cigarette lighter, Ousseynou Sy threatened the youngsters, took their telephones and told the adults on board to tie them up with electric cables.

The 40-minute ordeal, during which the bus also slammed into a car, was brought to an end when police managed to smash the windows and get those on board out just as the driver set fire to the vehicle. A dozen children and two adults were taken to hospital for smoke and fume inhalation, according to emergency services.

Sy said "he wanted to vindicate the dead of the Mediterranean".

He was referring to the large number of migrants who have lost their lives during the perilous crossing of the Mediterranean from North Africa to Europe.

The driver was arrested and treated at a Milanese hospital for burns on his hand.

"This villain has to pay for everything," said Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, whose League party is riding high in the polls in part because of its tough anti-migrant stance. He said Sy's citizenship could be revoked if he is convicted of terror under a tough security decree introduced last year.

The driver had no links with Islamist terrorism and "acted as a lone wolf", Mr Alberto Nobili, head of counter-terrorism at the Milan public prosecutor's office, told a press conference.

Mr Nobili said Sy had planned the hijack over several days and "wanted the whole world talking about his story".

He posted a video on YouTube to explain his actions, calling on relatives and friends in Crema and Senegal to take action by saying: "Africa - arise."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE. NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 22, 2019, with the headline 'Driver takes 51 kids hostage, sets bus on fire'. Print Edition | Subscribe