Afghanistan: Girls targeted in gas attack
Of the 90 girls from the Qazaam school admitted to hospital, at least five slipped briefly into comas, officials in Kapisa province, north-east of the capital, said. Six teachers and at least two other staff were also admitted.
One of the teachers, Zakira, collapsed in front of her students. The headmistress, Mossena, said there was a strange odour which engulfed the courtyard as girls began retching uncontrollably. Medics said most of the victims were between eight and 12 years old.
It was the third such attack against a girls' school in Afghanistan in as many weeks, raising fears that the Taliban are resorting to increasingly vicious methods to terrorise young women out of education. Police officials blamed Taliban sympathisers but the insurgents' spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid denied any involvement. "Harming children is not the work of holy warriors," he said. "We absolutely reject this."
Gulcheena described the gas smelling like a chemical known locally as Mallatin, which farmers sometimes spread on fields to poison foraging birds. The provincial police chief, Matiullah Safi, said none of the students, teachers or support staff had seen anything suspicious. "It looks like something was sprayed in the school but so far no one has been arrested," he said. "There's no proof, at the moment, that this was an attack."
But the alleged poisoning comes just days after girls at a school in nearby Charikar, on the road north of Kabul, complained of similar symptoms.
Last November, men on motorbikes used water pistols to squirt acid in girls' faces as they walked to school on the outskirts of Kandahar. More than a dozen girls and several teachers at the Mirwais School for Girls had the acid thrown in their faces and one was so badly disfigured she had to go abroad for treatment. The attacks caused such distress and fear that many parents kept their girls at home for several weeks but most have since returned to school, vowing not to be intimidated.
The Taliban denied involvement in the acid attacks too but police claimed the men were paid by insurgents hired by rogue elements within the Pakistani intelligence agency. President Hamid Karzai, seemingly intent on avoiding any confrontation with Pakistan over the matter, subsequently denied there had been any Pakistani involvement.
Women's education was banned under the Taliban, and girls' schools are routinely torched or closed in areas where the insurgents hold sway. Prior to the acid attacks, the Taliban had strengthened their grip in the Mirwais area and other districts close to Kandahar and posters had started appearing warning local people not to let their daughters go to school.
Large parts of Kapisa are now under the control of men loyal to Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a warlord once bankrolled by the US who is now in talks with the Afghan government of President Karzai. Parwan province, where the two previous gas attacks took place, is widely considered to be one of the safest places in Afghanistan.
Speaking from her hospital bed, Gulcheena said she collapsed moments after rushing outside. "The teachers splashed water on my face, but when I opened my eyes the next thing I knew, I was in hospital." Seayahmuy, a 15-year-old student in her final year at the school, said doctors had ordered her to stay in overnight. She said she did not remember a strange smell, nor did she see any gas. Dr Abdul Mateen said most of the patients were suffering from vomiting, nausea and dizziness. "We don't have the equipment here to do a full diagnosis," Dr Mateen said. Blood samples were being sent for analysis to the US base at Bagram.
The Taliban have shown themselves capable of increasingly complex attacks and Nato accused them this week of using white phosphorus. But they are not thought to have used gas as a weapon in recent years.
One girl, Leda, 12, said from her hospital bed: "We were very weak, sick and dizzy. When I opened my eyes we were in hospital. I am so sad, what went wrong with our school? I want to study."
13 May 2009
By Jerome Starkey
Source: The Independent
British Muslims for Secular Democracy (bmsd) reaction to the poison gas attack on girls school in Afghanistan
British Muslims for Secular Democracy is deeply concerned at news of the 12th May poison gas attack at a girls school in Charikar, north-east Afghanistan, which resulted in the hospitalisation of 98 people (including 84 students).
This is the third poisoning incident to take place at a girls’ school in the past fortnight. bmsd believes that every child has the right to obtain an education in a safe, secure environment and strongly condemns these attacks.
While no group or individual has accepted responsibility for the poisonings, Education Ministry officials say they believe it is a series of poison gas attacks by militants who oppose education for girls. Attacks on girls’ schools have increased in the past year, particularly in the east and south of the country, as the Taliban insurgency has gathered momentum. bmsd urges the Afghan authorities to conduct a thorough, impartial investigation into these attacks, and to strongly resist the inegalitarian principles underpinning them.
Dr Shaaz Mahboob of bmsd said: “All Muslims and non-Muslims should condemn this cowardly act on defenceless young girls who are struggling to continue their education and contribute to the development of their country in an increasingly hostile environment. We all support these students, and it is imperative that whoever has carried out this attack should be brought to justice as per the country’s laws.”
Notes to the editors:
1. bmsd is made up of a group of Muslim democrats of diverse ethnic and social backgrounds, who support a clear separation between religion and the State.
2. bmsd’s mission statement: “To promote civic engagement, social inclusion, responsible citizenship and good governance particularly within constituent Muslim communities of Britain; in order to build an understanding of the shared values between all citizens to enable them to live in an inclusive, pluralist, secular and confident Britain.”
3. bmsd claims no mandate or false representative status. Our primary concern is democratic engagement not detailed theological analysis or debate. The level and depth of commitment to the doctrinal core and orthodoxy of the faith varies among Muslims as much as it does in members of other faith groups. bmsd founders wish to create a platform for alternative, diverse Muslim views, essential for a progressive, multi-layered, democratic identity that is not in conflict with itself or fellow citizens.
4. For details please visit http://www.bmsd.org.uk
5. For any further queries, please contact: Dr Shaaz Mahboob on firstname.lastname@example.org / 07961365751 or Tehmina Kazi on 020 7631 4175.
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