Kabul (AsiaNews/Agencies) - Hundreds of girls in a high school in northern Takhar province have suffered poisoning in different incidents over a number of days. The authorities suspect radical Muslims opposed to women's education.
The poisoning occurred in three separate cases, the last one, yesterday. Forty-three students at the Bibi Hajira High School in the provincial capital of Taloqan felt ill for no apparent reason. Several fainted and had to be taken to hospital.
Four days earlier, 120 students and three teachers went through the same experience in the same school, which has about 3,000 students.
Police believe that Muslim radicals opposed to the education of girls used an unidentified toxic powder to contaminate the air in classrooms.
The authorities have opened an inquiry. Blood samples were taken from the girls and sent for testing.
When they were in power (1996-2001), the Taliban banned schooling for girls. When they fell, schools reopened but in areas where they operate, incidents and fires occur in or near schools, often with harmful effects for the students.
The Taliban have denied any responsibility in school destruction or the recent poisoning incident.
The girls involved in the latest case were dismissed from hospital after undergoing a check-up.
Since the students recover quickly after their hospital visit and no evidence of poisoning has been found, some experts believe that fear of Taliban retaliation is causing mass hysteria.
After a similar incident in Khost province, 200 students who said they felt sick were tested by NATO doctors. The results were negative; no trace of poison were found in the air, the water or any other possible target.
For sociologist Robert Bartholomew, these incidents are part of a "larger social panic involving the fear of Taliban insurgents".