A bus driver in Italy is facing charges of kidnapping and attempted mass murder after he set fire to the vehicle he was driving and threatened at least fifty school children on board. Police say the man, an Italian of Senegalese background, said he wanted migrant deaths at sea to come to an end.
The bus was carrying two middle-school classes in Cremona province about 40 kilometers from Milan. The driver, an Italian citizen reported to be of Senegalese origin, threatened the passengers and then set the vehicle alight.
Following calls to the authorities, police set up road blocks on the outskirts of the city and managed to force the bus into the guard rail, AP reports. They were able to get all the passengers, including 51 children, to safety before the bus was engulfed in flames.
Police said the driver shouted "Stop the deaths at sea, I'll carry out a massacre" after he was arrested. The ordeal lasted for almost 40 minutes, ANSA reported. Police chief Luca De Marchis said the driver was not armed.
One of the children told reporters that the driver had threatened to pour petrol on them and set them alight.
"We were all very scared," said one boy interviewed anonymously by La Repubblica newspaper. "He tied us all up and seized all mobile phones so that we could not call the police."
According to a video posted by Agenzia Vista, another boy from the bus said the driver had "wanted revenge for his daughters" who died at sea while trying to reach Italy. Police said they would be investigating the driver's motive.
Following the rescue, some children were taken to hospital with bruises or in a state of shock, but none suffered serious injuries.
The driver, who police said lived in Cremona and was married with two children, was treated for burns. Sky News 24 said the man had worked for the bus company for 15 years. According to police, he had prior convictions but none for serious crimes.
Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini tweeted: "I want to find out exactly why a person like this with previous convictions was driving a bus carrying children."
The United Nations estimates that around 2,297 migrants drowned or went missing in the Mediterranean in 2018 as they tried to reach Europe.