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157 MIN READ TIME

Terror Attacks that Never Were

BY ROBERT E. BARTHOLOMEW, STEPHANIE LOCKERY, AND ABDUL FATTAH NAJM

“Of all our passions, fear weakens judgment most.” —Bertrand Russell1

FOR THE PAST EIGHT YEARS, ANNUAL REPORTS of Taliban atrocities involving the mass poisoning of Afghan schoolgirls have caused outrage around the world. In 2009, The Statesman proclaimed: “Afghan schoolgirls targeted in ‘Taliban gas attack.’”2 The next year, the International Herald Tribune reported: “Poison Gas Sickened Afghan Schoolgirls.”3 In 2012, The Hindustan Times stated: “Taliban Suspected of Poisoning 120 Afghan Schoolgirls.”4 During August 2015, the New York Daily News published the headline: “More than 100 Afghan Schoolgirls, Teachers Poisoned in Suspected Taliban Attack.”5 In May 2016, the Afghan newspaper the Pajhwok Reporter carried the story of nearly 200 students who were supposedly poisoned after smelling an unfamiliar odor in Zaranj, despite no evidence of poison and the girls rapid recovery.6

Between 2009 and 2016, several thousand casualties have been reported in dozens of schools in at least seven Afghan provinces: Balkh, Bamyan, Farah, Herat, Khost, Nimroz, and Takhar. During this period, numerous suspects have been arrested and charged with carrying out these attacks, while Afghan newspapers have called for harsh penalties for the perpetrators.7 Yet, the further one delves into these claims, the more dubious they become.

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Review of The Invention of Science: A New History of the Scientific Revolution, by David Wootton
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