New 'poisoning' hits Afghan schoolgirls: officials

MAHMUD RAQI - Another 98 Afghan girls were rushed to hospital on Tuesday in the latest in a spate of mysterious poisonings to hit three schools north of Kabul in a fortnight, officials said.

The children fell ill as they entered the school building in the small town of Mahmud Raqi, about 70 kilometres (45 miles) north of the capital, teachers and students told AFP.

"There was a strange smell and some students fainted, others felt sick," said a teacher named only Humaira. Soon nearly all the students at the Aftabaki Girls High School felt ill, she told AFP.

A doctor dealing with the case said that the school had apparently been filled with gas overnight, and that radical Islamist insurgent groups opposed to the education of girls could be responsible.

Ambulances and police vehicles rushed the affected children to the provincial hospital, said another teacher, Turyalai Khan.

"We admitted 98 schoolgirls and a few teachers today in our hospital with symptoms of semi-consciousness, weakness, vomiting, headache and dizziness," the head of the hospital, Ahmad Khalid Anayat, told AFP.

They became ill "apparently from some poisoning gas they respired," he said.

Sixty students were discharged by mid-afternoon and the remainder were expected to be sent home by the end of the day, he said.

It follows a similar incident on Monday about 20 kilometres away in the town of Charikar where 61 schoolgirls and one of their teachers were treated in hospital, apparently also after inhaling some form of gas.

Late April around 40 other girls were treated in a different school in Charikar with similar symptoms.

Jan Agha, a doctor dealing with the latest case in Mahmud Raqi, capital of Kapisa province, said "enemies of Afghanistan" -- a phrase that refers to various radical Islamist insurgent groups -- could have been responsible.

"It is not quite clear yet what caused the poisoning but it seems was from a poisoning gas by enemies of Afghanistan," Agha said.

The Taliban and other radical Islamic factions who also oppose the education of girls are waging an insurgency against the new administration that has seen several attacks on boys' and girls' schools.

Schoolgirl Razma, 16, told AFP from her hospital bed that she had smelt something sour which had burnt her nose.

"As we walked into the building, we smelled an unknown smell and soon students complained they felt sick and some fell to the ground," she said.

Blood samples had been sent to Kabul to find out what the cause was, doctors said.

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