A dozen students have been hospitalised for smoke inhalation after their school bus was allegedly hijacked and set alight by its own driver on the outskirts of Italy’s business capital Milan.
The driver of the bus which had 51 children onboard is accused of spilling petrol down the aisle of the vehicle while shouting that he wanted to stop the deaths of African migrants in the Mediterranean Sea before setting it on fire.
The Carabinieri, Italy’s national police service, managed to rescue everyone onboard before the bus was engulfed in flames.
Police were able to get to the scene after one student reportedly called emergency services after the driver declared he wanted to kill himself while dousing the vehicle with an inflammable liquid.
According to reports, the student was able to hide the phone during the alleged hijacking.
Police stopped the vehicle by erecting a series of checkpoints that the driver failed to break through.
Authorities named the driver as Ousseynou Sy, a 47-year-old Italian citizen of Senegalese origin who was reportedly known to police.
He was arrested at the scene after police broke the bus windows to get everyone to safety.
Police spokesman Marco Palmieri said Sy told police he shouted, “stop the deaths at sea, I’ll carry out a massacre”.
A video posted on Italian news sites on Wednesday showed the driver ramming the bus into cars on a provincial highway before the fire took hold.
Children can be seen running away from the vehicle screaming and shouting “escape”.
One of the children told reporters that the driver had threatened to pour petrol over them and set them alight.
A teacher who was with the middle school children was quoted by Ansa news agency as saying that the driver had said he wanted to get to the runway at Milan’s Linate airport.
An unnamed girl was also quoted as saying that Sy blamed deputy prime ministers Matteo Salvini and Luigi Di Maio for the deaths of African migrants at sea.
The United Nations estimates that some 2297 migrants drowned or went missing in the Mediterranean in 2018 as they tried to reach Europe.