Gangs, believed to be Taliban, attack schools in Afghanistan
Armed men seek stop to Western aid, influence
By Kim Barker
Special To The Sun
Originally published April 13, 2003
SHEIK MOHAMMADI, Afghanistan - The men showed up at the end of the party celebrating the new school. They broke windows, ripped a poster in half, tore a skeleton system off the wall. They set fire to biscuits and books.
Abdul Bari Rohani hid his ID badge under a mattress. But the men found it.
"They looked at my identification card and said, 'Who is this headmaster, this Abdul Bari - son of George W. Bush? We are looking for him,'" said Rohani, who managed to escape detection.
During the Taliban regime, Afghan girls were not allowed to go to school, and boys were educated in Islam. When the Taliban fell 18 months ago and schools opened their doors to all children, not everyone supported such equality.
Last fall, schools for girls in Wardak province, near Kabul, were attacked. In the past two months in Kandahar province, a former Taliban stronghold, seven schools were attacked and burned, including the one in Sheik Mohammadi, about 6 miles south of Kandahar. The schools have been accused of teaching Western thought and relying on Western money.
Such incidents are part of an increasing number of attacks in southern Afghanistan not only on Westerners but also on Afghans. The attackers are masked men with causes reminiscent of the Taliban. They call for more restrictions and seek to destabilize the central government.
At many of the boys' schools and the nearby villages, the attackers left leaflets claiming to be from the Jamiat Jehash Moslemein, or Muslim Gathering Movement, warning people working with the Afghan or U.S. government to quit for their own safety.
The leaflets say Muslims should not get into government cars, or visit any government worker injured in a mine blast, or go to dog fights. Girls and women should not go to school. All Muslims should stay off roads used by government cars and stay away from places where foreigners go, such as hotels.
"They want to make the situation critical," said Soltan Mohammad Azizi, a deputy education minister in Kandahar province. "They attack schools - they don't care which schools. They just don't want children to go to school."
Lt. Gen. Mohammad Akram Khakrizwal, head of security in the province, said Jamiat Jehash Moslemein was just another name for Taliban.
A group led by the former spokesman for Taliban leader Mullah Omar and supported by Osama bin Laden was responsible for burning the schools, he said. No one has been arrested.
"The people who used to be against education are the Taliban," Khakrizwal said. "They are behind this. They want everybody to grow up illiterate and uneducated like them."
The school in Sheik Mohammadi opened about 60 years before the Taliban shut it down. About two months ago, construction started on the new Shah Mahmood Hotaki School, for about 600 boys in grades one through seven.
It was built with donations, including $20,000 from the Islamic Relief Foundation that paid for the building, Rohani said. UNICEF donated books and metal storage lockers. The Indian government gave biscuits to the World Food Program, which passed the biscuits on to the school.
The first day of school after the attack, there were no biscuits for the students. All the teachers showed up for classes. Half of the boys stayed home.
Kim Barker writes for the Chicago Tribune, a Tribune Publishing newspaper.
Copyright © 2003, The Baltimore Sun
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