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Afghan Girls School Poisoning: 74 Girls Poisoned in Suspected Taliban Gas Attack

According to Reuters, as many as 74 school girls at the Bibi Hawa Girls High School are feared poisoned after falling sick from smelling a strange gas on Thursday morning. The school, located in Taluquan, the capital of Afghanistan's far North province of Takhar, is only the latest incident of mass poisonings of girls schools — a sadly recurrent tragedy being coordinated by the ultra-conservative elements of Afghan society that believe girls should not be educated. 

As President Karzai calls for local leaders to promote fairness and equality in education for women, a right that was granted to women after the fall of the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2001, the Afghan Education Ministry has closed 550 schools across the country due to security concerns, affecting 300,000 students in eleven provinces.

The girls smelled gas and started falling unconscious at the school, and the ensuing chaos involved other classmates crying while police and school officials transported the girls to the provincial hospital. The 8th, 10th, and 11th grade students are receiving treatment at the local hospital, and most were released after being deemed healthy but some are critical condition. Dr. Jamil Frotan, head of the provincial hospital treating the girls, described the ongoing investigation into thepoisoning, saying: "We have already sent samples of their blood to the Ministry of Public Health and it will soon become clear what the reason for their illness was."

This poisoning comes three days after another girls school in Taluquan was reportedly gassed, sending a dozen young girls to the hospital. No individual or group has stepped up to claim responsibility of this abhorrent act, and it is unknown if any one will be brought to justice. The Takhar province is known to be a stronghold of militant and surreptitious activity from groups like the Taliban and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan.

Taluquan's schools witnessed four similar poisonings on girls' schools between May and June of 2012, poisoning 700 girls through contaminated drinking water and poisonous gas, prompting provincial officials mandating principals of schools to instruct staff and faculty to remain on the grounds after students' dismissal, and inspect the schools for any suspicious objects or activity. One such poisoning on May 23, 2012 affected 120 girls on the same day, and another poisoning of a local boys' school sickened 200 students.

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