Distraught families gathered Sunday at a mortuary in western Uganda for any news of their loved ones after dozens of students were killed and many more missing in an attack by a rebel group.
Officials say at least 41 people, including 38 students, were massacred at a secondary school in the town of Mpandwe near the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) late on Friday.
The attack at Lubiriha Secondary School, in which victims were hacked, shot and burned to death, shocked Uganda and drew condemnation from around the world.
The army and police blamed the Allied Democratic Front (ADF) armed group for the attack. The attackers abducted six people while fleeing.
The military said it was pursuing the attackers and would free the abductees.
As the attackers set fire to a locked dormitory, many victims were burned beyond recognition in a frustrating effort to identify the dead and account for the missing.
At a morgue in Bewara, a town close to the attack, families mourned as their loved ones’ bodies were placed in coffins and taken for burial.
But many were not aware of missing relatives. Many of the charred bodies have been sent to the city of Fort Portal for DNA testing.
It was the deadliest attack in Uganda since 2010, when twin bombings in Kampala by the Somalia-based group al-Shabaab killed 76 people.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called it a “horrific act”, while the US, Uganda’s close ally and the African Union also condemned the bloodshed.
The army will “find these evil people and they will pay for what they have done”, President Yoweri Museveni said on Saturday.
But questions have been raised as to how the attackers managed to evade detection in a border region with a heavy military presence.
Major General Dick Olum told news agency AFP that intelligence had suggested an ADF presence in the area at least two days before the attack and that an investigation would be needed to establish what went wrong.
Uganda and the DRC launched a joint offensive in 2021 to drive the ADF out of Congolese strongholds, but the measures have largely failed.
In June 1998, an ADF attack on Uganda’s Kichwamba Technical Institute near the DRC border left 80 students burned to death in their dormitory.