The Taliban is suspected of poisoning as many as 126 schoolgirls and female teachers at a private school in Afghanistan’s western province of Herat, according to various news outlets.
Citing Afghan officials, Reuters notes that the girls were taken to the hospital “after breathing toxic gas.”
“More than a hundred people, all females, were poisoned,” Enjil district’s administrative chief, Mohammad Naqib, told Pajhwok Afghan News, noting that an undetermined number of school workers, as well as some of the parents and custodians who rushed their loved ones to the hospital, were also poisoned.
— Pajhwok Afghan News (@pajhwok) August 31, 2015
As many as 126 students and teachers from the private Habibul Mustafa School located in the provincial capital Herat city, were rushed to the Herat Zonal Hospital after falling sick on Monday, Mohammad Shafiq Sherzai, a spokesman for the hospital, reportedly said.
Although Khaama Press reports that the real cause of the incident is unknown, some Afghan news outlets say the poison attack took place as a result of a gas leak, while others report that the classrooms may have been sprayed with toxic material.
“Our initial finding shows some kind of spray was used by some of the students to freshen up the classrooms,” Herat’s police spokesman, Col. Abdul Rauf Ahmadi, told NBC News. “Our investigation is ongoing to determine if it was an act of sabotage or poor quality spray.”
“I was inside a classroom and felt a bad smell. I don’t know what happened later on. When I opened my eyes, I was in hospital,” a teacher of the school, identified only as Hasina, told Pajhwok news.
Sherzai suggested that a gas leak was behind the incident, according to Pajhwok news.
Abdul Raouf Ahmadi, a spokesman for the Herat police, said the provincial police force has launched an investigation into the poisoning incident, but no arrests have been made so far, reports Afghanistan Times.
According to the article, the Ministry of Education (MoE) has expressed concerns over the incident and called on local authorities to take all necessary measures to apprehend those involved.
No specific group has claimed responsibility for the incident.
However, NBC News reports that the incident has prompted authorities in Herat city to probe whether the girls and instructors were poisoned by Taliban terrorists.
The district governor of Enjil blamed the incident “on enemies of the government who opposed education for children,” reports Reuters.
The Taliban eliminated women’s access to education while ruling Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001.
In 2001, a U.S.-led coalition ousted the jihadist group, which is now behind a surge of attacks against the foreign-backed government, less than a year after U.S. President Obama declared an end to the coalition’s combat mission.
Herat’s police chief, Gen. Majid Rozi, told NBC News that 40 of the poisoned schoolgirls were from a minority Shiite neighborhood.
“Fundamentalist Sunni Muslim Taliban militants have a history of targeting both girls’ schools and the Shiite Muslim minority in Afghanistan,” notes NBC News.
“Poisoning of school pupils, especially at girls schools, has increased in recent months – sparked concern among many families in Afghanistan,” adds TOLO News.
The incident at the Habibul Mustafa School comes about a month-and-a-half after 45 schoolgirls were poisoned in another part of Herat city, notes Khaama Press.