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Gunmen open fire on sleeping college students in Nigeria

By Emma Lacey-Bordeaux
September 30, 2013 -- Updated 0548 GMT (1348 HKT)
A screengrab taken on September 25, 2013 shows a man claiming to be the leader of Nigerian Islamist extremist group Boko Haram, Abubakar Shekau.
A screengrab taken on September 25, 2013 shows a man claiming to be the leader of Nigerian Islamist extremist group Boko Haram, Abubakar Shekau.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: At least 40 students were killed by gunmen who attacked them as they slept
  • The attack is the third on schools in the region since June
  • No claim of responsibility yet, but a military spokesman says evidence points to Boko Haram
  • Since 2009 Boko Haram has targeted schools, churches and police stations

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(CNN) -- Under the cover of darkness, gunmen approached a college dormitory in a rural Nigerian town and opened fire on students who were sleeping.

At least 40 students died, according to the News Agency of Nigeria.

The gunmen fired indiscriminately on the male dorm, said Lazarus Eli, a military spokesman. The attack took place at about 1 a.m. Sunday at the College of Agriculture Gujba.

"So far all evidence points to the Boko Haram," Eli told CNN by phone.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility.

Part of a pattern?

Since 2009, Boko Haram has sown murder and mayhem in Nigeria's northeastern region. The Islamic militant group's name translates from the local Hausa language as "Western education is a sin."

Boko Haram militants often target schools and churches. In 2011 and 2012, Christmas attacks were blamed on them.

Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan created a new wing of the military to specifically deal with the insurgency.

In May, Jonathan declared a state of emergency in three northeastern states. He cited "terrorists" who have caused a "a near breakdown of law and order."

One of the three states is Yobe, where Sunday's attack took place.

It was the third attack on a school in four months in Yobe.

The ongoing violence in this predominantly Muslim region has claimed thousands of lives.

Meanwhile, human rights groups have accused the military of committing atrocities against civilians.

During a May trip to the country, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Nigeria "has acknowledged that there have been some problems" and was "working to try to control it."

CNN's Nana Karikari-apau contributed to this report.

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