KABUL Dozens of schoolgirls in Afghanistan were admitted to hospital on Tuesday after two suspected poisonous gas attacks on schools, officials said, the latest in a spate of similar incidents.
Thirty schoolgirls in the northern city of Kunduz and six in Kabul were admitted to hospital, health officials and the interior ministry said.
"Others are also coming in. We don't know the exact number of girls affected, it could be many. It's a similar incident to what happened in Kabul and Kunduz last week," said Homayun Khamosh, head of the Kunduz city hospital where girls were admitted.
One of the girls taken ill in Kunduz said she saw a man in black clothes, with his mouth and nose wrapped in a cloth, throw a bottle near the school. The bottle appeared to release a smelly fume, the girl who said her name was Farzana told Reuters.
The attacks are the latest in a string of incidents at girls' schools involving an airborne substance which officials say could be poisonous gas. Blood tests taken from girls affected by previous attacks have not yet yielded any results.
An interior ministry spokesman said he had no information on the Kunduz attack but confirmed that half a dozen schoolgirls and one teacher from a school in Kabul's fourth precinct were taken to a nearby clinic after smelling a gas and falling ill.
"It's not clear what was the cause of the poisoning, whether it's a destructive action or a kind of gas used for something else but we will check whether this is an action of the enemies or food poisoning," Zemarai Bashary said.
A Reuters reporter outside the Kabul school said several police officers and police cars had surrounded the area. One schoolgirl, a 15-year old called Samira, was on gate duty shortly before her classmates were taken ill.
"I smelled something very sweet and when I went and told my teachers about it they said it was not a big incident but later on I saw girls falling down and collapsing and vomiting so we called the police," she said.
Samira said she saw three men standing outside the school shortly before smelling the gas.
Police at the school played down the incident and said the gas was coming from a leak in a shop across the street, but the shop vendor said he had no gas on his premises.
Three suspected poison gas attacks on girls' schools have taken place in Kunduz over the past few weeks and last week 22 schoolgirls and three teachers fell ill when their school was struck.
It is not clear who is responsible for the attacks. In the past officials have blamed the Taliban but the Islamist group has denied involvement and condemned the possible attacks.
The Taliban banned education for girls when they ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, and in many rural areas where the Taliban hold sway, girls' schools remain closed, teachers have been threatened and some girls have been attacked with acid.
Attacks on girls' schools using suspected poisonous gas have increased since last year. In most cases the girls reported smelling something sweet, then fainting, dizziness and vomiting.
None of the cases was fatal.
(Writing by Golnar Motevalli; Editing by Alistair Scrutton)