MILAN, ITALY – An Italian man has been arrested for arson and kidnapping after taking 51 children hostage before setting the bus they were in, on fire. All passengers rescued but twelve children and two adults were taken to hospital for smoke inhalation.
According to Italian media outlet ANSA news agency, 47-year-old Ousseynou Sy who was originally from Senegal, had wanted to commit suicide to protest Italy’s migration policy and to “stop the deaths in the Mediterranean”.
“No one will survive today”
Sy was driving the children back to school from a sporting event in Cremona province, some 40km from Milan.
“(The driver) kept saying that people in Africa are dying and the fault is (deputy prime ministers Luigi) Di Maio and (Matteo) Salvini. Then the Carabinieri (Italian police) saved us,” she added.
ANSA reported that some of the children’s hands had been tied together with electric cables during an ordeal that lasted about 40 minutes.
Commander Luca De Marchis told Sky TG24 the driver threatened the children, telling them that “no one will survive today”.
Phone call from hijacked bus prevented the massacre
Authorities were alerted to the incident when an adult – presumed to be one of the chaperones – called an emergency operator. A student who managed to conceal his phone, called a parent.
The Carabinieri then intercepted the bus by setting up a roadblock using three police vehicles. The bus rammed the vehicles but were forced into the guardrail.
Italian school bus driver crashes into cars before setting bus on fire. All the children managed to escape unhurt. he did it in an apparent protest against migrant drownings in the Mediterranean. #Italy #BusOnFire pic.twitter.com/en59x7Z6z6
— Vikas Tripathi (@vikasjournolko) March 20, 2019
“While two officers kept the driver busy — he took a lighter and threatened to set fire to the vehicle with a gasoline canister on board — the others forced open the back door,” De Marchis said. While the evacuation was underway, the driver started the blaze.
De Marchis credited the officers’ “swiftness and courage,” for getting out all the children and their teachers “with no tragic consequences.”
ANSA reported that Sy, who became an Italian citizen in 2004, had been convicted in 2007 and 2011 of drunken driving and sexual molestation of a minor. Sky TG24 said that the driver had worked for the bus company for 15 years without any employment-related issues.
Sy will face possible charges of kidnapping, attempted mass murder, causing a fire and resisting arrest, judicial sources said.
Background to driver’s demands
“He (Sy) shouted ‘stop the deaths at sea, I’ll carry out a massacre’,” Italian police spokesman Marco Palmieri quoted the driver as telling officers after his arrest.
But what did he mean by that? And who is Di Maio and Salvini – both figures mentioned by the attacker?
Di Maio leads anti-establishment Five Star Movement and is Italy’s deputy premier. He also serves as labor minister and economic development minister.
Salvini is Italy’s Deputy Prime Minister of Italy and Minister of the Interior. He leads the anti-migrant Northern League party.
In January this year, two German non-governmental-organisation (NGO) ships carrying 49 migrants were repeatedly refused by Italy to dock in its country.
Di Maio – who has a softer stance towards Italy’s migration policy – first said Italy would take in women and children if Malta allowed the ships to dock. But Salvini point blank refused. He said in an interview he doesn’t “understand why … if there are 49 people in Maltese waters on German and Dutch boats, it’s still the problem of the Italians”.
He added Italy would still say “no” even to “15 people”, who would arrive in Italy only to “cause trouble and beg”.
Despite opposition from Salvini, the ships were eventually allowed to disembark in Italy after eight other European countries agreed to take in the stranded migrants.