KABUL — More than 80 Afghan students and teachers — most of them girls — were apparently poisoned over the past two days, local officials said Monday, in incidents that, while causing no critical injuries, mirrored recent attacks on schoolgirls in neighboring Iran.
According to witness accounts, students and teachers immediately fell unconscious after entering their classrooms, suggesting that a gas may have been used, said a village elder who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject.
Ayamuddin Yoldash, an information officer at the Directorate of Information and Culture of Sar-e Pol province, in northern Afghanistan, said 18 boys were among those harmed in the two incidents on Saturday and Sunday.
Suspected poisonings at Iranian girls’ schools leave dozens hospitalized
Shafiullah Rahimi, a spokesman for the Ministry of Disaster Management, said that “in one school, three teachers and 60 students were affected. In the second school, four teachers and 22 students were affected.”
All students and teachers were in stable condition by Monday morning, said another official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to reporters.
Authorities did not provide details on the suspected motive behind the incidents, adding that an investigation is underway. Mixed classes are not unusual in rural Afghanistan until the end of elementary school, and they have continued under the Taliban-run government, which has banned women from universities and closed schools to girls starting in seventh grade.
In neighboring Iran, human rights watchdog Amnesty International had counted 300 suspected gas attacks in more than 100 girls schools by late April, prompting anxiety and frustration among students and parents, some of whom said they may stop sending their children to school.
In Afghanistan, girls’ education has become one of the most divisive issues over the past 20 months since the Taliban took over. While the Taliban-run government has repeatedly said its bans are temporary, it has provided no timeline for the reopening of schools and universities.
Haq Nawaz Khan in Peshawar, Pakistan, contributed to this report.