An Italian man of Senegalese origins was arrested Wednesday after he hijacked and set fire to a school bus carrying 51 children to protest the deaths of asylum seekers in the Mediterranean Sea, Trend reported referring to Xinhua.
The man blamed the hardline anti-immigrant policies of Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini and Deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio for the deaths and told passengers he wanted to kill himself in protest, Italian news agency ANSA reported.
The man hijacked the bus carrying 51 middle school students on a provincial road near the northern Italian city of Milan, poured gasoline and set fire to it, according to ANSA.
Police chased the bus after a distress call from one of the kids on board, forcing it stop and then breaking all the windows to let the children out before the vehicle went up in flames, Sky TG24 private broadcaster reported.
The man was identified as a 47-year-old who obtained Italian citizenship in 2004. Twelve kids and two adults were hospitalized after inhaling toxic fumes, none of them in serious condition, ANSA reported.
Charges against the man include multiple counts of kidnapping, attempted mass murder and terrorism, because his act caused panic among the population, Sky TG24 cited counter-terrorism prosecutor Alberto Nobili as telling reporters in Milan.
"School bus hijacked and set on fire, the defense minister (Elisabetta Trenta) compliments Carabinieri (military police) who arrested the man responsible for this absurd gesture: thank you for saving the lives of 51 children and because you make our cities safer," the defense ministry tweeted.
"Accordng to witnesses, the man who set fire to a bus today, putting at risk the lives of 51 kids who were on a school outing, shouted: I want to end it all, the deaths in the Mediterranean must be stopped," RAI public broadcaster's TG3 news tweeted.
RAI TG3 reported that rescue efforts were sparked by a call from a 12-year-old boy who called his father to tell him that the bus had been hijacked.
The public broadcaster posted a video of the bus loaded with screaming children, who are later seen running away, followed by footage of the charred remains of the vehicle.
The man had been a driver for the company that owned the bus for 15 years, and had given no sign of mental instability, RAI TG3 reported bus operator Autoguidovie as saying.
The man had been reported once for drunk driving and was once accused of sexual assault but had been acquitted, neighbors and acquaintances told Sky TG24.
However, leftist MP and former Lower House speaker Laura Boldrini tweeted: "How is it possible to entrust a school bus to a man with a police record for drunk driving and sexual assault on a minor?"