The Lookout

Dozens of Afghan schoolgirls hospitalized for third time in 2 weeks; Taliban blamed for ‘poison attack’

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A girl peeks out of a classroom window at a school in Kandahar, Afghanistan, Oct. 1, 2011. (Anja Niedringhaus/ …

Police in northern Afghanistan say 160 schoolgirls were admitted to a local hospital after they were thought to be poisoned by the Taliban. It's the third such poisoning of Afghan schoolgirls in less than two weeks.

The girls "complained of headaches, dizziness and vomiting before being taken to the hospital," Hafizullah Safi, director of the Takhar health department, told CNN. Most were discharged within a few hours, Safi said.

Officials suspect their classrooms were sprayed with a toxic chemical by militants who oppose education for girls.

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Last week, more than 120 girls and three teachers were hospitalized under similar circumstances. The Taliban denied responsibility for the May 23 attack. The day before, 40 girls were hospitalized at a different school.

Historically, the Taliban has been opposed to girls attending school, and had previously called for schools to be closed in northern Afghanistan. Conservative government officials have also opposed girls going to school.

According to the BBC, some officials have attributed the attacks "to mass hysteria among schoolgirls," noting that few if any "have displayed long-term symptoms of poisoning." Others, though, say the sheer number of students displaying symptoms cannot be entirely attributed to hysteria.

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And it's not the first time Afghan schoolgirls have been targeted. In 2009, hundreds of girls were hospitalized in the Kapisa province in eastern Afghanistan in three attacks over as many weeks. In 2010, more than three dozen schoolgirls were hospitalized in a suspected poison attack at another girls school.

Tuesday's apparent attack comes a week after President Barack Obama signed off on a plan for U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan by the end of 2014.

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