More than 50 schoolgirls in northern Afghanistan were rendered unconscious or fell ill after a suspected poison gas attack that government officials are blaming on the Taliban.
In three separate incidents at schools in the city of Kunduz, teenagers reported being overcome by fumes. The suspected attacks came almost a year to the day after a similar incident in Kapisa province.
Victims said they suffered dizzy-ness, nausea, and streaming eyes. "I was in class when a smell like a flower reached my nose," Sumaila, 12, told Reuters. "I saw my classmates and my teacher collapse and when I opened my eyes I was in hospital."
Officials were swift to blame the Taliban, which banned girls from an education when it ruled Afghanistan. and which has more recently been linked with acid attacks on female pupils. But the militants denied responsibility. Spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said: "We strongly condemn such an act that targeted innocent schoolgirls by poisonous gas."
Some rights advocates suspect that opposition to female education is no longer the exclusive preserve of the Taliban. Instead, they claim that Islamists unaligned with the insurgency may sometimes be responsible.
A million girls attend school in Afghanistan – an unprecedented number but a sixth of the number of boys.