It just happens that the mysterious gas only appears at girls’ schools — and that the Taliban have been fierce opponents of the education of girls. “Gas Sickened Girls in Afghan Schools,” by Rod Nordland for the New York Times, August 31:
KABUL, Afghanistan — Blood tests have confirmed that a mysterious series of cases of mass sickness at girls’ schools across the country over the last two years were caused by a powerful poison gas, an Afghan official said Tuesday. […]
Many local officials had dismissed the cases as episodes of mass hysteria provoked by acid and arson attacks on schoolgirls by Taliban fighters and others who objected to their education. But the cases have been reported only in girls’ schools, or in mixed schools during hours set aside only for girls.
The blood samples taken in the past week from victims in the two new cases — from 119 girls and four teachers at two schools in Kabul — are still being analyzed, Dr. Norughli said, but their symptoms were similar to those in the 10 cases where the poisonings were confirmed….
The gassings mostly occurred in areas of the country with large Pashtun populations, where opposition to girls’ education has been stronger than elsewhere. The Kart-e-Naw part of the city, where the schools in the newest cases are, is a heavily Pashtun quarter.
Attacks on schools in Afghanistan, particularly girls’ schools, have been rife in recent years, with most of them carried out by insurgents. A spokesman for the Ministry of Education, Gul Agha Ahmadi, said 60 schools had been burned down or destroyed so far this year. Cases where acid is thrown on female students are frequent in the south, and occasionally even in Kabul.
A Taliban spokesman, Zabiullah Mujahid, reached by cellphone, said opposition to some girls’ education did not mean they would resort to gas attacks.
“We have not and will never take such action against innocent girls,” he said.
At the Zabihullah Esmati High School, however, there was little doubt who was to blame.
“There are some people who are always intimidating girls from going to school,” said Abida Sadiri, a religion teacher, who also was among those sickened….