A bus driver in northern Italy abducted 51 schoolchildren and took them on an hour-long drive, then set the vehicle on fire when he was stopped by a Carabinieri blockade, officials have said.
Officers broke the glass in the back door of the bus and got all the passengers to safety without serious injury before the flames destroyed the vehicle.
As he was apprehended, the driver said he was protesting over migrant deaths in the Mediterranean, commander Luca De Marchis said.
Mr De Marchis told Sky24 TV that the driver, an Italian citizen of Senegalese origin in his forties, threatened the passengers, telling them that “no-one would survive” as he commandeered the bus carrying two classes in Cremona province, some 40 kilometres (25 miles) from Milan.
An adult called an emergency operator, while one of the students called a parent, and they alerted authorities, who set up roadblocks.
The bus was intercepted on the outskirts of Milan by three Carabinieri vehicles, which were able to force it into the guard rail, Mr De Marchis said.
“While two officers kept the driver busy – he took a lighter and threatened to set fire to the vehicle with a gasoline canister on board – the others forced open the back door,” Mr De Marchis said.
While the evacuation was under way, the driver started the blaze.
Mr De Marchis credited the officers’ “swiftness and courage” for getting out all the children and their teachers “with no tragic consequences”.
Some of the passengers were treated in hospital, mostly for cuts and scratches related to the evacuation, he said.
The driver, who lives in Cremona and is married with two children, was being treated for burns.
Sky TG24 said the driver had worked for the bus company for 15 years without any employment-related issues.
Mr De Marchis said he had previous convictions but did not specify their nature other than to say they were not serious crimes.
Video showed firefighters dousing the bus that had been completely gutted by flames, leaving only the charred metal frame.