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Some 160 Afghan Schoolgirls Ill After Suspected Gas Attack

A schoolgirl receives treatment at a hospital after the May 23 poisoning poisoned in the same province.
Some 160 schoolgirls are reported to have fallen ill and lost consciousness in northern Afghanistan after a suspected poisonous gas attack at their school.

The May 29 incident at the Ahan Dara Girls' High School in Toloqan, the capital of Takhar Province, was the fourth alleged attack on a school in the area since last month.

Some of the Takhar schoolgirls told RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan that they smelled a foul odor before losing consciousness.

"When I entered the class I smelled something and then I started to vomit and fell unconscious; I don't remember what happened after that," Amena Jan, one of the girls who was poisoned, was quoted as saying by Reuters.

Afghan intelligence officials say the Taliban has been increasing attacks on schools and students in an attempt to intimidate families to stop sending their children to school.

"An investigation into this incident is under way," Habibiullah Rustaqi, head of Takhar regional hospital, told the same agency from Toloqan, capital of Takhar Province. "We have already sent the blood samples of poisoned students to laboratory in Kabul to carry out tests, in order to get a clear result of what has happened. All of these incidents are similar. It has created a panic for students, and in my opinion, I suggested to officials to lock down the school at least for a week."

Local health official Hafizullah Safi has sought to downplay the incidents, claiming that even if some students inhaled poisonous gas, others "may have lost consciousness due to fear and hysteria."

Several other major poisonings have been reported in recent months, including one affecting more than 120 schoolgirls in the same province on May 23.

Another attack targeted a boys' school in Khost in April, leaving more than 200 students ill.

The Education Ministry reported this month that 550 Afghan schools have been closed down because of security concerns, affecting 300,000 students in 11 provinces.

President Hamid Karzai has called on tribal and religious leaders to encourage the education of girls.

Based on reporting by dpa, Reuters, and RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan