NDS arrests senior Taliban leader and 14 others linked to school poisonings


In the wake of the seventh suspected poison attack against a girls' school in Afghanistan's northern Takhar province since mid-April, the Afghan National Security Directorate (NDS) yesterday announced the arrest of 15 suspects linked to the attacks. NDS spokesman Lutfullah Mashal said that officials have arrested Qair Khalilullah, the Taliban's deputy shadow governor for Takhar province; northern Taliban commander Noor Agha; and a member of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) named Mullah Yaqub, for their roles in the poison attacks, according to Pajhwok News.

Also among those arrested are least three women; two of them are school students in Takhar, and the other is the wife of a librarian who worked at the Qurloq High School in Kunduz province and who was also arrested in connection to the poison attacks. Mashal indicated that one of the two school students arrested had been paid 50,000 afghanis ($1,035) from the Taliban to poison the drinking water in her school.

In addition to making the arrests, investigators confiscated unidentified poisonous materials, a pistol, 12 kilograms of unknown explosives, and communications equipment that were in possession of the suspects. The NDS operation that resulted in the arrests took place between June 3 and June 5.

Mashal directly accused Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI) of supporting the Taliban groups that have launched the series of poison attacks and caused apprehension among the residents of Takhar since the first suspected poisoning occurred there on April 17. The latest suspected poisoning occurred on June 6 at a girls' school in the Rustaq district of Takhar province.

Mashal identified two local Taliban groups, the Jandullah and Mahazullah fronts, as part of the larger Qari Khalil network that had carried out the poison attacks on behalf of the Haqqani Network and the ISI.

"Because Taliban will have less credibility in the face of society, they don't claim responsibility, but we have proven documents showing this is the job of the insurgents, Mashal said, according to TOLOnews. "Jandullah and Mahazullah fronts and Taliban group are behind these poisonings," he stated.

The arrests follow at least seven suspected poison attacks at girls' schools in Takhar province since April that have left hundreds of students sick. Prior to the arrests, Takhar Member of Parliament Mariam Kofi said she believed the poison attacks were being planned outside of Afghanistan, specifically in Pakistan.

"These cases have been planned in neighboring countries particularly Pakistan, as you better know, Taliban and al Qaeda have been trained well," Kofi told TOLOnews on May 29.

Some Afghan officials involved in the investigation were not convinced the attacks in Takhar actually involved poisonous or toxic substances.

"So far no evidence or any traces of any kind of poison or gas have been found," Afghan Interior Ministry spokesman Sayed Edayat Hafiz told reporters in late May.

Additionally, members of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) who had clinically tested samples taken from the schools reported they could not find any traces of poisons or other toxic material. Poison attacks are usually attributed to unknown "toxic powders," poisonous gas, or poisoned/contaminated drinking water.

But during the June 6 press conference in Kabul, Afghan Public Health Minister Dr. Suraya Dalil claimed that investigations had indeed discovered that an unknown powder had been used to poison the female students; and symptoms included breathing problems, headaches, and vomiting.

Below is a timeline of the suspected poison attacks against girls' schools in northern Takhar province this year:

  • June 5, 2012: As many as 60 schoolgirls were believed to have been poisoned at a school in the Rustaq district of Takhar province. Takhar government officials claimed that at least 11 suspects including a "group leader" had been arrested by local security forces for their role in the series of poison attacks in northeastern Afghanistan.
  • June 3, 2012: At least 65 schoolgirls were poisoned at the Nahid Shahid high school in Takhar province, Farkhar district. Local officials said at least four suspects, including a Pakistani woman, have been detained in connection to the poisoning of schoolgirls in Takhar. This is the sixth time that the schools have been poisoned in northeastern Takhar recently.

  • June 2, 2012: Two dozen schoolgirls -- between seven and 18 years old -- were believed to have been poisoned at the Bashir Abad School in Taloqan, the capital of Takhar province, and sent to local hospitals for treatment.

  • May 29, 2012 : Local authorities in Takhar province believed that between 74 and 120 schoolgirls had been poisoned early Tuesday morning at the Aahan Draaw girls' school.

  • May 27, 2012: Hospital officials treated at least 40 schoolgirls from Bibi Hajera High School in Takhar's capital city of Taloqan after they had fallen ill, apparently from being poisoned. The all-female school had suffered a poisoning attack a few days prior.

  • May 23, 2012: Eighty girls were evacuated from the Bibi Hajera High School in the 5th police district of Taloqan in Takhar province and treated at a local hospital along with three school teachers and a staff member after falling ill from an apparent poison attack.

  • April 17, 2012: Afghan officials in Takhar province announced that dozens of schoolgirls had fallen ill after consuming poisoned drinking water at the Dabiristan girls high school in the Rustaq district of Takhar province. Subsequent test results of the suspected poison drinking water have proved inconclusive.



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READER COMMENTS: "NDS arrests senior Taliban leader and 14 others linked to school poisonings "

Posted by wallbangr at June 8, 2012 12:26 PM ET:

Bill,
I read elsewhere (perhaps from an article linked from the LWJ) that some are strongly beginning to suspect that the most recent of these poison "attacks" is possibly a case of what used to be called "mass hysteria." They have now come up with a more politically correct term, mass phychogenic illness, which somehow sounds worse than being driven by the collective uterus. Whether or not it is in this case remains to be seen. Notably, no actual poison has been detected and the girls all recovered. I would never put this past the Taliban, and clearly they have poisoned schools in the past, but it does make me wonder. Interestingly, people who study such phenomena think that people living under tremendous stress (i.e., in a war zone) who can do nothing to change their circumstances, are more likely to experience it. The best example is the West Bank fainting epidemic in the 80's, which the palestinians blamed on Israeli chemical warfare. Again, we know that the Taliban has done this before (which speaks volumes of their misogyny), but I wonder if perhaps for once they are getting the balme where they didn't earn it. But like my own mother would say whenever I complained that I was being unjustly punished for something: "You probably had it coming for something you got away with."

Posted by Gabriel at June 8, 2012 1:06 PM ET:

Wow. It's amazing to see the progress Afghanistan is making. They sought after whoever was responsible, including women. Great stuff to see.

Posted by mike merlo at June 8, 2012 3:05 PM ET:

It sounds like the students may have been given low does of a hallucinogen. This would help explain the 'hysteria' and also the difficulty in detecting the 'toxin'(hallucinogen?) in question. NDS though once again demonstrates their prowess.

Posted by Mr. Wolf at June 8, 2012 4:37 PM ET:

400 Students affected by the mystery substance. Even if it is mass hysteria, the numbers are impressive and local. I first thought it would be legionnaires disease from the warmer weather and old drinking water reserves. Hopefully it is simple bacteria or sanitation problems.

Finding a sample of the powder now allows the ability to break it down and test it. If it appears to be simple fertilizer or a pre-curser to the heroin process, then we know. At least one more "leader" of local thugs is stopped.

Posted by Jim at June 8, 2012 11:21 PM ET:

Who knows what they were given. But while reading this article I just sat there shaking my head in disgust/amazement. I get attacking military targets and even collaborators with NATO but poisoning a bunch of grade school girls??? How can the Taliban be stupid enough to think that this is a good move, big picture wise?

One thing that stood out to me when reading the "Abbottabad Documents" was that UBL stressed repeatedly the importance of winning "hearts and minds". Where does poising the water that little kids drink fit into all of that?

Posted by sports at June 8, 2012 11:50 PM ET:

What a pathetic act to take against children.

Posted by jean at June 9, 2012 8:58 AM ET:

Do 14 detained suspects go to the joint detention center or are they just released in few months??Will the Aghans stand up for their children and demand justice?

Posted by kip at June 9, 2012 11:23 AM ET:

I traveled through Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, etc. in the early 70s and later lived in the Middle East for 10 years. I worked with many Afghans and Patans over the years and found them to be good people. The problem is that, especially 'in country', you are dealing with people who live in the 12th. century. They may have cell phones and tvs but they still stone their women, kill their daughters, poison their school kids, throw acid in women's faces, live by tribal law, but they are mostly are still living in the dark ages.

Posted by gb at June 9, 2012 10:01 PM ET:

The whole premise of mass hysteria would be reasonable if we were talking about Europe,US, And certain regio specific areas of Asia, but with regard to astan news travels at a snails pace at best. It's just not reasonable that news could travel so quickly that mass hysteria could be blamed for this rash of poisonings. I would err on the side of Taliban/aq poisonings being legit.