Men Set Fire to Afghan Girls' School

Armed men broke into a girls' school south of the Afghan capital and set it on fire, the latest attack on education for girls in the conservative country, officials said Thursday.

The children burst into tears when they saw their school destroyed, principal Zaher Din said.

"The children are desperate for their classes to resume," he said.

The assailants tied up two school guards Tuesday night, beat them and then doused the small building and two classroom tents with gasoline, said Khan Mohammed, police chief in Logar province (search).

Three men from the local village, 35 miles south of the capital, Kabul, were being questioned, he said.

Workers were stringing up plastic tarpaulins across the school's compound Thursday, and the principal said he plans to resume classes for his 665 students, ages 7 to 15, by Saturday.

Interior Ministry spokesman Latfullah Mashal blamed Taliban (search) militants, saying the "burning of schools and education institutions is an agenda of the terrorists."

There has been a spate of attacks on girls' schools across Afghanistan since U.S.-led forces ousted the Taliban in 2001.

The former regime prohibited girls from attending school as part of its widely criticized drive to establish what it considered a "pure" Islamic state.

Hundreds of thousands of girls have returned to school since the Taliban's ouster, but opposition remains in conservative areas of rural Afghanistan.

"Why did they only burn the girls' school? Why not the boys' school next door?" asked a 12-year-old student who only gave her first name, Farida. "The police must protect us. We want to be able to study."

The Taliban have recently stepped up attacks against government targets, particularly in the south and east of the country, where a joint Afghan government-U.S. coalition operation this past week to hunt down the Islamic militants has triggered some of the heaviest fighting since the hard-line movement was ousted.