(Photo: AP Images / Mustafa Quraishi)
A girls school may have been hit by poison gas in Afghanistan after 74 schoolgirls fell sick, local officials reported on Sunday.
There were allegedly reports of a strong gas smell in the school when the girls fell sick and there are now investigations taking place to examine whether a possible poisoning incident has taken place.
Over recent years there have been some known cases of mass poisonings of schoolgirls by members of Afghanistan's ultra-conservative society that are opposed to female education, according to Reuters.
The school in this incident, Bibi Maryam, is located in Takhar province's capital, Taluqan. The city is about 250 kilometers north of the country's capital, Kabul.
According to the Takhar governor's spokesman, Sulaiman Moradi, "enemies of the government and the country" are to blame for the most recent incident. He claims that the girls have been poisoned by those who wish to stop them from attending school.
Most of the girls have since been released from hospital after medical treatment, however, there are several reportedly in critical condition as of Sunday evening.
The head of the hospital, Dr Jamil Frotan has said, "We have already sent samples of their blood to the Ministry of Public Health and it will soon become clear what the reason for their illness was," according to Reuters.
Earlier in the week another school poisoning allegedly took place in a girls' high school in Talugan. In that case more than a dozen girls fell sick. Although investigations are still ongoing in that incident too, at the moment no one has claimed responsibility.
The Taliban, which bans education for women and girls, was ousted in 2001 in the country, and since then increasing numbers of women and girls have enrolled in courses throughout the country. However, there have been constant attacks against them by the militant group's supporters, and teachers as well as students and school buildings have been attacked.