April 29, 2009 / 6:07 AM / 9 years ago

Afghan schoolgirls say not intimidated by "poisoning"

By Peter Graff

CHARIKAR, Afghanistan, April 29 (Reuters) - Shiba Madadgar did not feel the effects until after she got home.

She became dizzy and ill and was rushed to the hospital where dozens of her classmates were already recovering from what doctors believe was a poison attack on their school this week.

"I am not afraid," she told Reuters at her home around the corner from the school, which was shut for a national holiday on Tuesday. "No. I just want to go back to school."

Girls’ schools have increasingly come under attack in Afghanistan in recent years by Taliban and other insurgents opposed to girls’ education. Schools have been bombed and torched, teachers have been murdered.

In November last year militants threw acid on schoolgirls in the southern city of Kandahar leaving many of them severely burned and scarred. Hundreds of schools across the country have been attacked by the Taliban since they were forced from power in 2001 after the Sept. 11 attacks.

But the latest incident, which took place on Sunday in Parwan province on the outskirts of Kabul, has authorities baffled.

If it was an attack, it was unusual because Parwan is an area which had little sympathy with the Taliban, never came firmly under their control, and tried to keep its girls’ schools open even when the austere Islamic group was in power in Kabul.

As Shiba related it, the girls had just arrived at their secondary school in the town of Charikar north of Kabul.

They had lined up in the garden and listened to a reading from the Koran, when several girls became dizzy and collapsed. The rest were sent home, where she and many others also took suddenly ill.

None of them had eaten or drunk anything at the school.

The Afghan Public Health Ministry said it was suspected to be an airborne poison attack.

The school guard, Bismallah, who goes by one name, said he saw nothing suspicious.

"Nobody threw anything over the wall. Nobody came in," he said. He has no explanation for what caused the sudden illness.


Dr Abdul Khalil Farhangi, an internal medical specialist who treated the girls at the nearby hospital, said the only possible explanation was an attack with a poison gas, although he cannot be sure what the substance was.

The hospital treated 43 pupils and teachers on the day of the incident and another two the next morning, he said.

"I think this is a new project from the side of the enemy," he told Reuters in English. "It was a poisoning. This is Afghanistan. Why do this? I don’t know. This is the tragedy for these people."

Officials say they are still investigating the case. Blood samples from the girls have been sent to laboratories.

But despite being convinced it was a poison gas attack, Dr Farhangi said he is not keeping his own daughter home from school. "I have a daughter. I have sons. They are going every day to school. I am not afraid." (Editing by Golnar Motevalli amd Sanjeev Miglani)

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