KABUL, Afghanistan (CNN) — At least 140 Afghan schoolgirls and female teachers were admitted to a local hospital after their drinking water was poisoned, health officials say, laying the blame on extremists opposed to women’s education.
The victims range in age from 14 to 30 and were taken to a hospital in Afghanistan’s northeastern Takhar province on Tuesday after their school’s water tank was contaminated, according to provincial health department director Dr. Hafizullah Safi.
No deaths were reported, but more than half the victims partially lost consciousness, while others suffered dizziness and vomiting.
“Looking at the health condition of these girls, I can definitely say that their water was contaminated by some sort of poison,” Safi said. “But we don’t know yet what was the water exactly contaminated with.”
Local officials say they are investigating the incident at the Rostaq district school and are searching for the perpetrators.
“It is the work of those who are against girls’ education and peace and stability in Afghanistan,” district administrator Malem Hussain said.
Many Afghan girls were not allowed to attend school during the Taliban’s rule from 1996 to 2001, but girls’ schools began reopening after the regime was toppled by the U.S.-led invasion.
Observers say, however, that abuse of women remains common in the post-Taliban era and often accepted in conservative and traditional families, where women are barred from education and commonly subjected to domestic violence.
Female educational facilities, students and teachers have come under vicious attack as the insurgency has spread outside Taliban strongholds in the southern provinces of Kandahar and Helmand.
In 2010, more than a hundred schoolgirls and teachers were sickened in a series of similar poisonings.