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Gas attacks on schoolgirls in Afghanistan

As of May 2010, there are 2.5 million Afghan girls enrolled in school which is a sharp contrast to 2001 when female education was banned across the country. However, Afghan schoolgirls stay in school in the face of extreme danger. Here are just a few examples of attacks on Afghan schoolgirls, specifically focused on decreasing female school enrollment since 2002:

  • Four girls schools near Kabul were attacked in October 2002 with rockets and arson. A letter was nailed to a tree in one of the schoolyards with the threat “Stop carrying out the plans of the Americans, or you will face further deadly attacks”
  • In April 2004, three schoolgirls were poisoned by the Taliban in Khost
  • In November 2008, in Kandahar, a schoolgirl Shamsia Husseini and her sister were walking to school when a man on a motorcycle asked them if they were going to school. He then sprayed their faces with acid. In all, 11 schoolgirls and 4 teachers were hurt in the attack.

However, since the resurgence of the Taliban in Afghanistan since 2008, the number of attacks on Afghan schoolgirls have stepped up with 670 cases of threats and attacks on schools recorded in 2008 alone. In 2008, between the beginning of the school year in March to around May, there were 36 schools attacked by the Taliban in Kandahar alone, causing the shutdown of over half the girls schools in Kandahar. These attacks have, as usual, largely been ignored in the Pakistani media. In the last few months, there has been a sharp increase in a new kind of attack on Afghan schoolgirls that is even more difficult to detect – namely, the use of poisonous gas.

  • In April 2010, 13 girls were poisoned in Kunduz
  • Again on April 24 2010, 47 schoolgirls and 3 teachers were brought to a hospital with symptoms of poisoning
  • In a separate incidient on April 2010, another 20 girls were hospitalized
  • On June 13, 2010 60 schoolgirls in Balkh were hospitalized in another poison attack. They were all between 9 and 14 years old.

As usual, the Taliban is denying their involvement in these attacks. The gas attacks have the advantage of being even more difficult to find the culprits of than arson, rocket attacks or acid attacks which were the preferred method of attack in the past.

However, given the Taliban’s open and well-documented campaign of intimidation against schoolgirls, their denials of responsibility for the gas attacks should not be believed for a minute. Here is an analysis of the Taliban’s tactics in Kunduz in 2009 which accurately predicts this most recent round of attacks:

The tactics used by the Taliban are shockingly simple. Dozens of so-called “night letters,” which are affixed to the doors of schools in the dead of night, are piled on Muqim Halimi’s huge desk. Halimi is the commissioner of education for the Kunduz province and a crowd of men are waiting outside his office, most of them hoping to be able to bribe their way into good grades for their children. But when Halimi hears that a German reporter wants to talk about the closure of the girls’ schools, he clears the room so he can talk undisturbed.

After confirming the closures, he reads aloud from the Taliban night letters, as simply formulated as they are explicit. “As of today,” he reads from a message from Aqtash, “girls are no longer allowed to attend school.” The letter is marked with a logo of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan — in English, yet another indication of just how well organized the Taliban are in the German area of operation.

Another threat letter depicts a schoolgirl at the gallows. “We have warned you,” reads the message. “If we now kill schoolgirls, you shouldn’t be surprised.”

Here is a picture of a letter posted to a schoolgirl:

Here is another letter:

Translation:

In the name of Allah
Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan
Jihadi Command Front

Declaration

All Mujahideen and Taliban are hereby instructed to attack those hypocrites and superficial Muslims who collaborate with American invaders and enemies of Sharia. Those that teach lessons of Christianity and blasphemy to Muslim children in fact attack Islam and want to weaken Muslim ranks. Mujahideen and Taliban must not allow the puppets of blasphemers to damage Muslims’ belief. Those who gave American books and lessons to children must be given a severe penalty. Mujahideen should also advise people to avoid sending their children to such hypocrital places.

Allah’s victory is imminent.
Peace and regards be to Muslims and victory be to Mujahideen
Reliant on Allah Mujahid Mullah Mansoor Dadullah Akhund

Another “night letter” in 2006 warned

The Taliban had posted a note in the village mosque a few weeks earlier, ordering all girls schools to close. And another “night letter” left at a nearby school had warned: “Respected Afghans: Leave the culture and traditions of the Christians and Jews. Do not send your girls to school.

Here is a report published in 2009 on attacks on schools in Afghanistan

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Laila Ebadi

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