KANDAHAR, Afghanistan – Afghan police have arrested 10 Taliban militants allegedly involved in an acid attack against 15 girls and teachers walking to school in southern Afghanistan, a provincial governor said Tuesday.
"Several" of the arrested militants have confessed to taking part in the attack earlier this month, said Kandahar Gov. Rahmatullah Raufi. He declined to say exactly how many had confessed.
High-ranking Taliban fighters paid the militants a total of $2,000 to carry out the attack, Raufi said. The attackers came from Pakistan but were Afghan nationals, said Doud Doud, an Interior Ministry official.
The attackers squirted acid from water bottles onto three groups of students and teachers walking to school in Kandahar city on Nov. 12. Several girls suffered burns to the face and were hospitalized. One teenager couldn't open her eyes days after the attack, which sparked condemnation from around the world.
Afghanistan's government called the attack "un-Islamic," while the U.N. labeled it "a hideous crime." U.S. first lady Laura Bush decried it as cowardly.
Raufi said the suspects will be tried in open court after the investigation is completed.
One of the victims of the attack, a teacher named Nuskaal who was burned through her burqa, called Tuesday for harsh punishment.
"If these people are found guilty, the government should throw the same acid on these criminals. After that they should be hanged," said Nuskaal, who like many Afghans goes by one name.
President Hamid Karzai earlier this month called for a public execution of the perpetrators.
Kandahar is the spiritual birthplace of the Taliban regime, the hard-line Islamists who ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, and one of Afghanistan's most conservative regions, a place where women rarely venture far from home.
Taliban spokesman Qari Yousef Ahmadi on Tuesday denied that Taliban militants were involved in the attack.
Girls were banned from schools under Taliban rule, and women were only allowed to leave the house wearing a body-hiding burqa and accompanied by a male family member.
The country has made a major push to improve access to education for girls since the Taliban's ouster. Fewer than 1 million Afghan children — mostly boys — attended school under Taliban rule. Roughly 6 million Afghan children, including 2 million girls, attend school today.
But many conservative families still keep their girls at home.
Raufi said girls attending Mirwais Mena girls' school didn't attend class for three days after the attack, but have since returned.
Kandahar province's schools serve 110,000 students at 232 schools, Raufi said. But only 10 of the 232 are for girls. Some 26,000 girls go to school, he said.
Arsonists have repeatedly attacked girls' schools and gunmen killed two students walking outside a girls' school in central Logar province last year. UNICEF says there were 236 school-related attacks in Afghanistan in 2007.
The Afghan government has also accused the Taliban of attacking schools in an attempt to force teenage boys into the Islamic militia.
Elsewhere in Afghanistan, the country's intelligence agency said it has arrested four people, including three religious leaders and a youth, for alleged involvement in suicide and other bomb attacks in northern Kunduz province.
The ring was broken up after a failed bombing mission in the province earlier this year when the would-be bomber failed to properly detonate his explosives, the agency said in a statement Tuesday.