Twenty-four Muslim students were hospitalised in Tbong Khmum’s Kroch Chhmar district on Saturday night after unknown men allegedly sprayed a poisonous substance into the house where they were staying.
The victims, all females between the ages of 12 and 22, hailed from various districts around Tbong Khmum and were living at the house, which is near an Islamic school they attend.
At about 9:30pm, the victims smelled a strange odour in the building, and soon began vomiting and passing out. First responders rushed them to the district referral hospital.
“At night, when we were preparing to go to sleep, we smelled a bad smell coming from under the house,” Asy Yas, a 22-year-old victim, said on the phone from the hospital yesterday. “We all started to get dizzy, vomit and lose our strength until we fainted.”
Victim Ro Sidas, 17, noticed the silhouettes of two men sneaking about underneath the house on the night of the attack. She yelled a warning to her fellow students and the men ran away. None of the victims were able to see their faces.
The poison used in the attack remained unidentified as of yesterday. Hospital chief Oun Samarth said that the chemical caused the victims to have trouble breathing, throat pain, dizziness, weakness and nausea.
“We could not identify the name of the spray yet, but we have concluded that it is a kind of strong poison,” he said. “Now, the students are a little bit better but we are still treating them. We are worried about future effects.”
Thy Sengly, a police chief in Trea commune, where the incident occurred, said that police have a working theory that the attack was triggered by religious discrimination among the local residents. No suspects have been apprehended as of yesterday afternoon.
“Police concluded that they have rancour with each other over their religion in the community,” he said.
Eng Kok-Thay, a researcher who has studied Cambodia’s Cham community extensively, said that he noticed a quiet antipathy between Muslim and non-Muslim community members in isolated areas of Kampong Cham and Tbong Khmum in the past five years.
According to Kok-Thay, some Buddhists dislike the seeming insularity of Muslim communities, including the fact that Muslims run exclusive institutions like schools. However, Kok-Thay stressed that this grumbling very rarely turns violent and there is no “pattern” of enmity between Muslims and non-Muslims in the country.
Ter Serei, the Trea commune chief, said that he wasn’t aware of any disputes between the Muslim and non-Muslim community members prior to the attack.
Additional reporting by Igor Kossov