|Victims of suspected poisoning at a high school in Kabul: Shah Marai/Reuters|
Dozens of pupils treated in hospital as Afghan militants accused of poison attack on girls.
When the order came to evacuate the Totia high school, hundreds of girls ran from their desks clutching handkerchiefs and their headscarves over their mouths. School bags were abandoned as some leapt out of the ground floor windows of their dilapidated two-storey school block rather than trying to push their way through a melee of teenage girls all rushing to get out to fresh air.
Teachers tried to organise an orderly departure but their efforts were in vain amid rising panic that the school had become the latest in Afghanistan to be hit by an apparent poison gas attack.
A total of 46 students and nine teachers were treated in hospital after what Mohammad Asif Nang, an official at the education ministry, described as "an apparent poisoning" attack by "the enemies of women's education".
According to staff, parents and onlookers, girls began fainting in the school's main classroom block at about 10.30 this morning, during the first of three daily shifts designed to triple the number of girls at the school.
Some victims had to be carried out while others stumbled to the school gates, where about 18 slumped to the ground unconscious, said Abdul Haq, a 15-year-old boy who witnessed the incident.
Many were taken to hospital and most quickly recovered but some girls remained unconscious for several hours, doctors said. Others were vomiting and complaining of nausea.
The symptoms matched those of other cases reported around the country. Opinions are divided between those who denounce the incidents as malicious attacks by social conservatives who disapprove of female education and sceptics who think the culprit is more likely to be mass hysteria.
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