One of the children in the bus later told reporters that the driver had threatened to pour petrol on them and set them alight. Italian authorities say a bus driver transporting schoolchildren stopped his vehicle on a provincial highway, told the passengers to get off and then doused the interior with gasoline and set it on fire.
"I want to end it all, we need to stop [migrant] deaths in the Mediterranean", the driver said, according to RAI public television and other media reports.
Miraculously all 51 schoolboys managed to escape the fire without injuries, although 12 children and two adults were sent to hospital for smoke inhalation, according to RaiNews24.
Police blocked the bus in the street and broke open the back windows to get the children out before the vehicle went up in flames. ANSA said the chaperones only loosely bound several students' hands, not everyone's.
"It was a miracle they survived and we have to thank the Carabinieri for that", Milan prosecutor Francesco Greco said, adding that prosecutors also were weighing terrorism charges. The bus was intercepted on the outskirts of Milan by three Carabinieri vehicles, which were able to force it into the guardrail, De Marchis said.
Some passengers were taken to the hospital for cuts and scratches.
De Marchis credited the officers' "swiftness and courage" in getting all the children and their teachers out of the vehicle "with no tragic consequences".
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ANSA identified him as Ousseynou Sy, and said he was being investigated on suspicion of kidnapping, intention to commit mass murder, arson and resisting law enforcement.
Reports said he was 47 years old, of Senegalese origin and had been a school bus driver since 2002.
De Marchis said he had previous convictions, but did not specify their nature.
After the incident, Salvini tweeted that police were searching the man's house and that he wanted to know why a man with his antecedents - he allegedly was charged with drunk driving and sexual harassment - was allowed to drive a school bus. Video footage showed that the vehicle was completely gutted by flames.
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