At least 120 schoolgirls and three teachers have been poisoned in Afghanistan, local police reported on Wednesday. The attack has been blamed on Taliban. The incident in the northern Takhar province is the second in several months.
The attack appeared aimed at shutting down schools educating girls and women, which radicals deem inappropriate.
Perpetrators reportedly used an unidentified toxic powder to contaminate the air in classrooms. Police say evidence suggests that the substance was sprayed. The poisoning left dozens of Bibi Haji school students unconscious.
Last month a similar poisoning attack in Takhar province affected 150 schoolgirls, who drank contaminated water.
Afghanistan's intelligence agency, the National Directorate of Security (NDS), says the Taliban is behind such attacks and appears intent on closing schools ahead of a 2014 withdrawal by the NATO-led coalition.
"A part of their Al Farooq spring offensive operation is … to close schools. By poisoning girls they want to create fear. They try to make families not send their children to school," NDS spokesman Lutfullah Mashal said as cited by Reuters.
Afghanistan's Ministry of Education said last week that 550 schools in 11 provinces where the Taliban have strong support had been closed down by insurgents.
Education was forbidden for women in Afghanistan after the Taliban took control of the country in the wake of the Soviet withdrawal.
After the country was conquered by the US and its allies in 2001, females were allowed into school again.
But both students and teachers fall victim to radicals’ attacks, especially in the more conservative provinces of the country.