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.