Three Afghan girls in a group of eight walking to school in Kandahar City were seriously burned Wednesday when two men on a motorcycle threw acid on them.
Six of the eight were taken to hospital. Three were treated and released. Two girls who were wearing full-length burkas were not harmed.
Some of the girls wore a typical Afghan school uniform — black pants, a white shirt, black coat and white head scarf.
Athifa Bibi, 14, said from her hospital bed that two men rode up to the girls and threw the acid while they were walking to school. Bibi had burns on her face, which was covered in medical cream.
"One guy squirted acid from a bottle on us," she said.
"Nobody warned us. Nobody threatened us. We don't have any enemies," she said, adding that she is now afraid to go back to school.
Attack 'an act of desperation'
"This is a sophisticated, dangerous and complicated land with some fascinating people, some of whom are not keen that we’re here," said Gen. Andrew Leslie, head of Canada's land forces.
"This story will spread through Afghanistan and the Taliban, our foe, will not win any friends by the tale of two young thugs scattering acid on two young girls trying to get an education," Leslie said.
"There's no upside for them on this, so it's an act of desperation."
Canada's ambassador to Afghanistan, Ron Hoffman, said the increasing attacks were desperate acts of rebellion against progress.
"And it's for that reason, as the Afghan government continues to stregthen, the institutions strengthen and they move to the next presidential elections, as more and more girls do go to school, that over time, I think, there is a high degree of confidence among the Afghans themselves. They will regain momentum for their country," he said in an interview with CBC-TV's Politics.
Girls were banned from schools under the Taliban's hardline Islamist regime, which ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001.
Bibi's family had not received any threats not to send the girl to school, said Bibi Meryam, the child's aunt. But the family would now consider keeping her at home as a precautionary measure until the security situation improved, she said.
The Afghan government condemned the attack, saying in a statement that it was "un-Islamic." The statement said the attack was perpetrated by the "country's enemies," a reference normally used to describe Taliban militants.
"By such actions, they cannot prevent six million children going to school," the statement said.
Taliban spokesman Qari Yousef Ahmazi denied that the insurgents were involved.
"We totally deny it. We didn't do this thing," said Qari Yousaf Asmazi. "I don't like these incidents to occur with civilians.