KABUL, Afghanistan — More than 80 Afghan schoolgirls have fallen ill in recent days after reporting a strange odor in their classrooms in northern Afghanistan, prompting an investigation into whether they were targeted by militants who oppose education for girls or victims of mass hysteria.
The reports from three schools within 2 miles of one another in Kunduz province have raised alarm in a city threatened by the Taliban and their militant allies.
The latest cases occurred yesterday, when 13 girls became sick, Kunduz provincial spokesman Mahbobullah Sayedi said. Forty-seven others complained of dizziness and nausea the day before, and 23 fell ill Wednesday.
All complained of a strange smell in class before they fell ill.
None of the illnesses was serious, and the girls were hospitalized for only a short time. The Health Ministry said blood samples were inconclusive and were being sent to Kabul for further testing to determine the cause of the illnesses.
“This is a matter of concern not only for us but for the families,’’ Sayedi said, blaming the sicknesses on “enemies’’ who oppose education for girls.
In Kabul, President Hamid Karzai’s spokesman, Waheed Omar, said any attempt to keep girls out of school is a “terrorist act.’’
Previous cases of sudden illness in schools have left families too frightened to send their daughters to school.
Last year, dozens of girls were hospitalized in Kapisa province, just northeast of Kabul, after many collapsed with headaches and nausea following reports of a strange odor in their schoolyard.