‘Someone has to pay’: Italy reeling after school bus hijack

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

'Someone has to pay': Italy reeling after school bus hijack
Investigators comb the charred remains of the bus on Wednesday. Photo: Flavio Lo Scalzo/AFP

The Italian driver of Senegalese origin on Wednesday hijacked the bus as it was taking the 12-13 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 to tie them up with electric cable.

“He blocked all the doors with chains,” teaching assistant Tiziana Magarini told AFP. “He showed me a knife and told me to tie up all the children.” 

The 40-minute ordeal, during which the bus also slammed into a car, was brought to an end when police managed to smash windows open and get those onboard 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.

READ ALSO: Driver sets Italian school bus on fire with 51 children inside

The remains of the bus. Photo: Flavio Lo Scalzo/AFP

“It's crazy, absurd, it's unacceptable. Someone has to pay, and dearly,” said Filippo Razzini, the father of a pupil at the school in the small town of Crema who was not on the bus.

“It's good to go back to school today because unfortunately these things are today a reality. But if it were up to me I'd be out there waiting for this guy somewhere,” he told AFP.

The driver's lawyer said his client had wanted to “draw attention to the consequences of (Italy's) migration policies”.

Italy has clamped down on immigration under far-right Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, demanding it close its ports to charity vessels rescuing migrants who are trying to cross the Mediterranean.

“This villain has to pay for everything,” said 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 convicted of terror under a tough security decree introduced last year.

A handout picture from the police shows Ousseynou Sy after his arrest. Photo: Italian Carabinieri Press Office/AFP

'Lone wolf'

The Milan police anti-terrorism unit has been charged with investigating the hostage-taking, during which Sy reportedly told students: “No one is getting out of here alive.”

Police were alerted to the situation after one of the students held on the bus called them from his mobile phone.

The incident has shaken Crema's community. “My daughter was in shock yesterday, she said 'Mummy, I could have been there too',” parent Luisa Ginelli told AFP on Thursday.

The driver had no links with Islamic terrorism and “acted as a lone wolf”, Alberto Nobili, head of counter-terrorism at the Milan public prosecutor's office, told a press conference. Nobili said on Thursday that 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 and call on relatives and friends in Crema and Senegal to take action, saying: “Africa — arise.”

Police stand guard outside the school in Crema that the children on the bus attend. Photo: Miguel Medina/AFP

Sy got his Italian nationality and job in 2004 and managed to keep subsequent convictions for drink driving and sexual assault of a minor secret from his employer, the Corriere della Sera newspaper reported.

A neighbour told La Stampa newspaper that he was known as “Paolo”. “That's what we called him because his name was too complicated. I saw him go out every morning, he drove a bus. A quiet man but solitary,” she said.

Colleagues told Italian media that Sy's separation from his Italian wife, with whom he has two teenage children, was “when his problems started.” 

By AFP's Francesco Gilioli

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US vice president lays wreaths at site of 2015 Paris terror attacks

US Vice President Kamala Harris and French Prime Minister Jean Castex laid wreaths at a Paris cafe and France's national football stadium Saturday six years since deadly terror attacks that left 130 people dead.

US vice president lays wreaths at site of 2015 Paris terror attacks
US Vice President Kamala Harris and her husband Doug Emhoff lay flowers after ceremonies at Le Carillon bar and Le Petit Cambodge restaurant, at which 130 people were killed during the 2015 Paris terror attacks. Photo: Sarahbeth Maney/POOL/AFP

The attacks by three separate teams of Islamic State group jihadists on the night of November 13, 2015 were the worst in France since World War II.

Gunmen mowed down 129 people in front of cafes and at a concert hall in the capital, while a bus driver was killed after suicide bombers blew themselves up at the gates of the stadium in its suburbs.

Harris, wrapping up a four-day trip to France, placed a bouquet of white flowers in front of a plaque honouring the victims outside a Paris cafe.

Castex attended a minute of silence at the Stade de France football stadium, along with Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo, before laying wreaths at the sites of the other attacks inside Paris.

In front of the Bataclan concert hall, survivors and relatives of the victims listened to someone read out the names of each of the 90 people killed during a concert there six years ago.

Public commemorations of the tragedy were called off last year because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Last year we weren’t allowed to come and we all found it really tough,” said Bruno Poncet, who made it out alive of the Bataclan.

But he said the start of a trial over the attacks in September meant that those attending the commemoration this year felt more united.

‘Overcome it all’

“We’ve really bonded thanks to the trial,” he said. “During previous commemorations, we’d spot each other from afar without really daring to speak to each other. We were really shy. But standing up in court has really changed everything.”

The marathon trial, the biggest in France’s modern legal history, is expected to last until May 2022.

Twenty defendants are facing sentences of up to life in prison, including the sole attacker who was not gunned down by police, Salah Abdeslam, a French-Moroccan national who was captured in Brussels. Six of the defendants are being tried in absentia.

Poncet said he felt it was crucial that he attend the hearings. “I can’t possibly not. It’s our lives that are being discussed in that room, and it’s important to come to support the others and to try to overcome it all.”

Survivors have taken to the witness stand to recount the horror of the attacks, but also to describe life afterwards.

Several said they had been struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder, grappling with survivor’s guilt, or even feeling alienated from the rest of society.

Saturday’s commemorations are to wrap up with a minute of silence at the Stade de France in the evening before the kick-off for a game between France and Kazakhstan.

It was during a football match between France and Germany that three suicide bombers blew themselves up in 2015.

Then-French president Francois Hollande was one of the 80,000 people in the crowd, before he was discreetly whisked away to avoid triggering mass panic.