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Jun 12th, 2010

Afghan Girls Treated After Suspected Gas Attack

June 12, 2010

KABUL — About 50 Afghan schoolgirls became ill and were taken to a hospital after a suspected gas poisoning in their school in southwestern Afghanistan, officials said on Saturday, the latest in a spate of similar incidents.

The teenage girls fell ill and some became unconscious after smelling gas at their school in Ghazni, a two-hour drive south of the capital, Kabul, said senior provincial police official Nawroz Ali Mahmoodzada.

“It is again the same kind of attack to discourage girls from attending schools,” Nawroz Ali Mahmoodzada told Reuters.

“It is very disturbing. We have not yet found any clues to say where this substance is from or who is behind it,” he said.

Safiullah, a doctor in Ghazni’s central hospital, said most of the girls were treated and discharged. Others were still under medical care, he said. Mahmoodzada said none had died.

Saturday’s incident followed a similar pattern to other attacks at girls’ schools involving an airborne substance which officials say could be poisonous gas.

In other recent attacks in Kabul and in northern Kunduz province, girls reported smelling something sweet and then began fainting, and suffered dizziness and vomiting. However none of those cases resulted in deaths or long-term health problems.

The Taliban, which banned education for girls during their rule from 1996-2001, has condemned such incidents in the past and denied any responsibility.

They have however, torched dozens of schools, threatened teachers and even attacked schoolgirls in rural parts of the country where they are the strongest.


Related reports on this site

Image: Girl in hospital bed
A medic at the hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan, checks on one of the hospitalized schoolgirls. (Photo credit: Fulad Hamdard / AP)

Poison Gas or Mass Hysteria? (April 25, 2010)

Afghan Schoolgirl Mass Hysteria (Aug. 27, 2010)



Authorities would be well advised to investigate alleged poison gas attacks as possible cases of mass hysteria, or mass psychogenic illness.

— Aubrey Immelman, Ph.D.


Topical reports

Mass hysteria (Wikipedia)

Mass hysteria among schoolchildren

Diagnosing hysterical conversion reactions in children

Protean nature of mass sociogenic illness: From possessed nuns to chemical and biological terrorism fears


Index case?

84 Afghan schoolgirls hospitalized in alleged poisoning (USA Today, May 12, 2009) — The sickness could be a result of group hysteria. A Parwan education official said they had not found any evidence of an attack in the incident. He said one student had fallen seriously ill before the others and suggested that some of the illnesses could have been psychological. Research has borne out the possibility of a psychological cause. At a Tennessee school in 1998, dozens were hospitalized for dizziness, headaches, nausea, and shortness of breath after a teacher noticed a gasoline smell in a classroom, according to a study in the New England Journal of Medicine. The study found that there had been no toxic exposure and that the sickness appeared to be psychological, noting that the symptoms were subjective. … Full story


8/27/2010 Update

Taliban Poison Attack or Mass Hysteria? Chaos Hits Another Kabul Girls’ School

Dozens of pupils treated in hospital as Afghan militants accused of poison attack on girls

Afghan schoolgirls after suspected poison attack
Afghan schoolgirls suffering from suspected poisoning are taken to hospital in Kabul. (Photo credit: Shah Marai / AFP — Getty Images)

By Jon Boone
The Guardian home
August 25, 2010

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.

At the Boost hospital, the head doctor, Abdullah Abid, said four of the 22 girls admitted remained unconscious for at least two hours.

“An ordinary doctor in a hospital cannot say exactly what causes this without further tests, but I think poisoned gas is most likely,” he said. “It has happened many times before in Afghanistan.”

He said that after studying psychiatry for a year in Pakistan he had become acutely aware of the power of hysteria and its ability to cause physiological responses, but he did not think that was the cause of the latest incident.

“I think three of them were just suffering from shock from seeing their friends become ill. But something else must have happened to the others.”

Education ministry officials said five similar cases had been dealt with in Kabul this year alone and eleven more around the country. …

Full story


5/24/2012 Update

Official: 122 Girls, 3 Teachers Poisoned at Afghan School

By Nick Paton Walsh

May 23, 2012

Kabul, Afghanistan (CNN) — More than 120 girls and three teachers were admitted to an Afghanistan hospital Wednesday after being poisoned in their classes with a type of spray [see note below], a Takhar provincial official said.

The incident occurred in the provincial capital of Talokhan, in the Bibi Hajera girls school, said Dr. Hafizullah Safi, director of public health for the northern Afghanistan province.

Forty of the 122 girls were still hospitalized, he said, with symptoms including dizziness, vomiting, headaches and loss of consciousness.

Blood samples have been sent to Kabul in an effort to determine the substance used, he said.

“A number of girls from 15 to 18 were brought from a school to hospital today,” said hospital director Dr. Habibullah Rostaqi.

“Generally they are not in a critical condition. We are looking after them, but let’s see what happens later. We understand so far from the situation … they are more traumatized.” …

There have been several instances of girls being poisoned in schools in recent years. In April, also in Takhar province, more than 170 women and girls were hospitalized after drinking apparently poisoned well water at a school. Local health officials blamed the acts on extremists opposed to women’s education.

While nearly all the incidents involve girls, earlier this month nearly 400 boys at a school in Khost province fell ill after drinking water from a well that a health official said may have been poisoned. …

Full story


Note: Neither this account nor the accompanying video report provides any evidence or eyewitness accounts of poison gas being sprayed at the school.


4/22/2013 Update

Afghan Girls’ School Feared Hit by Poison Gas

Schoolgirls who fell ill after smelling gas at their school receive treatment at a hospital in Takhar province, Afghanistan. (Photo credit: Reuters)

By Folad Hamdard

April 21, 2013

TALUQAN, Afghanistan — As many as 74 schoolgirls in Afghanistan’s far north fell sick after smelling gas and were being examined for possible poisoning, local officials said Sunday. …

Local officials said the girls became ill after smelling gas at their school, Bibi Maryam, in Takhar province’s capital, Taluqan. The city is about 155 miles north of the country’s capital, Kabul. …

The girls were taken to the provincial hospital and most were released after being treated, though several remained in a critical condition Sunday evening, Dr. Jamil Frotan, the head of the hospital, 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,” Frotan said.

The apparent poisoning came three days after more than a dozen students fell ill in another girls high school in Taluqan. No one has claimed responsibility for either incident.

Between May and June last year, there were four poisoning attacks on a girls school in Takhar, prompting local authorities to order principals to stay in school until late and staff to search the grounds for suspicious objects and to test the water for contaminants.

Takhar has been a hotbed of militancy and criminal activity since 2009, with groups such as the Taliban and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan active. …

Full story


FROM THE ARCHIVES: One Year Ago — June 12, 2009

Iraq Security Incidents

One year ago today I featured the daily summary of security developments in Iraq, as reported by Reuters.

3 Responses to “Gas Attack or Mass Hysteria?”
  1. Immelman for Congress » Blog Archive » Poison Gas or Mass Hysteria? Says:

    […] Gas Attack or Mass Hysteria? (June 12, 2010) […]

  2. Immelman for Congress » Blog Archive » Afghan Schoolgirl Mass Hysteria Says:

    […] Within its sociocultural context, the epidemiological pattern of the reported illnesses bears the hallmark of a group psychological reaction known as mass hysteria. As I wrote on April 25 and June 12, 2010, “Authorities would be well advised to investigate alleged poison gas attacks as possible cases of mass hysteria, or mass psychogenic illness.” […]

  3. Immelman for Congress » Blog Archive » Mille Lacs Lake Fishing Report Says:

    […] Afghanistan Gas Attack or Mass Hysteria? […]

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