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AFTA BACHI, Afghanistan (Reuters) - Five young girls slipped briefly into comas and nearly 100 were taken to hospital after a gas attack on their school on Tuesday, the third in a series of such incidents north of Kabul, Afghan officials said.
The early morning mass-poisoning at Qazaaq school was likely the work of Taliban sympathizers hostile to girls' education, the head of security for Kapisa province told Reuters.
"We don't think that the Taliban have done this, but the people who collaborate with and support the Taliban have done this," said Afghan Colonel Sha Agha, who is in charge of security for the second district of Kapisa, where the school is located.
"We have taken security measures to prevent such incidents happening again, and by doing more patrols, I am checking on schools during the night," he added.
The symptoms were the same as those shown by victims of suspected attacks on two girls' schools in nearby Charikar town. One poisoning took place on Monday and another on April 26. Scores of pupils were taken ill in each case.
In the latest attack more than 130 people were affected, with 98 students and 6 teachers admitted to hospital, said doctor and provincial public health head Wahid Rahim. He said five had slipped into comas but all had been revived.
Patients were vomiting, dizzy and some lost consciousness.
"There was a very bad smell in my classroom this morning and the teacher immediately told us to evacuate, but we couldn't walk to get out of the school, we were very weak, sick and dizzy. When I opened my eyes we were in hospital," said 12 year-old Leda.
"I am so sad, what went wrong with our school? I want to study," the sixth-grader said from her hospital bed in a ward of around 20 pale girls, most with drips in their arms.
"We knew about the incident in Charikar, but we didn't think such incidents would happen in our school. Right now we are very scared to continue with our education, to learn," said Aara Gul, 15, waiting for medication.
Unusually, the three incidents took place in a part of the country that was never under the firm control of the hardline Taliban and kept its girls' schools open while the austere Islamists ruled most of the country.
"Whoever has done this is against peace and security and improvement for women in the country. Surely it will have a negative impact on education, but we will never close the doors of schools for girls," said health chief Rahim.
There have been no clues as to what the gas was in either case or where it came from. Blood samples from the Charikar attacks have been sent to the nearby U.S. Bagram airbase but results have not yet come back.
Attacks on girls schools have increased in the past year, particularly in the Taliban's eastern and southern heartlands, as an insurgency has gathered strength. When the Taliban were in power in Kabul they banned women from work and schools.
Last year a group of schoolgirls in Kandahar had acid thrown in their faces by men who objected to them attending school.
Reporting by Sayed Salahuddin and Hamid Shalizi; Writing by Emma Graham-Harrison; Editing by Alex Richardson