Afghan schoolgirls fall ill in suspected gas attack

KUNDUZ, Afghanistan Sun Apr 25, 2010 9:18am BST

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KUNDUZ, Afghanistan (Reuters) - Dozens of Afghan schoolgirls fell ill after a suspected poison gas attack on their school, local authorities said on Sunday, blaming the incident on the Taliban who oppose education for girls.

Provincial police chief Abdul Razzaq Yaqubi said about 48 girls and several teachers became ill suddenly and many collapsed after smelling poison gas at the school in the northern city of Kunduz, where there has been an upsurge in insurgent violence.

Yaqubi blamed the Taliban for the attack.

"I was in class when a smell like a flower reached my nose," said Sumaila, 12, one of the girls hospitalised after the attack. "I saw my classmates and my teacher collapse and when I opened my eyes I was in hospital," she said.

Azizullah Safar, head of the Kunduz hospital, said many of the girls were still suffering from pain, dizziness and vomiting.

The Taliban banned all education for girls when they ruled Afghanistan from 1996-2001 and it remains a disputed issue in much of Afghanistan.

Similar attacks have been carried out in other parts of Afghanistan over the past few years, including areas where there is little Taliban presence. Yaqubi said 20 girls had fallen ill in a suspected poison attack on another Kunduz school last week.

In the south and east, where the Taliban control towns and villages, girls' schools remain shut, teachers have been threatened and some girls have been attacked with acid.

Despite the attacks, Sumaila said she hoped to return to school, if her father allows her.

"I am very scared. My parents were very worried. My father told me that I have learnt a lot. I don't know whether they will still let me go to school after this," she said.

(Writing by Peter Graff; Editing by Paul Tait)

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