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The mysterious poisoning of Iran's schoolgirls

More than 1,500 students, mostly girls, have been poisoned in 230 schools since November 2022
Iranian student wearing mask is seen in school [Fatemeh Bahrami - Anadolu Agency]
Iranian student wearing mask is seen in school [Fatemeh Bahrami - Anadolu Agency]

Parents of school age girls are becoming ever more anxious as the cases of poisoning continue. To date, some 1,500 students have been poisoned since the first case was reported in November.

How did it start and where?

The first poisoning cases of schoolgirls were reported on 30 November 2022 at the Qom Girls' Art School (Huneristan-i Qom) in the city of Qom. Eighteen girls were poisoned there.

In the following days, more than 500 students were poisoned in Qom. Ali Purtabatabai, a local journalist in Qom, who reported the incidents was detained by authorities.

As cases continued to rise, Mohammad Hasan Asferi, member of the Iranian Parliament Investigation Commission on Poisoning Cases, announced that more than 1,500 students, mostly girls, have been poisoned in 230 schools across 25 provinces since the first cases were reported.

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What poisons are used and what are their effects?

Initial statements from Iranian authorities suggested that nitrogen and carbon monoxide were found in the samples collected from school, but later they said it was still unclear what kind of poisonous substance was being used.

Deputy Minister of Health Said Kerimi shared the preliminary report of the Health Ministry on Monday, it says several types of poisonous gas were used, but the content of the chemicals have not been identified yet.

Who is behind the attacks?

There is no clear information about who is behind the mass poisoning incidents. Sources close to the Tehran administration claim that there are anti-regime elements behind the incidents that aim to incite the people against the administration.

Some conservatives suggested that such attacks could only be orchestrated by students or teachers inside the schools. The Teachers' Union rejected these allegations.

READ: Irans Khamenei calls poisoning of girls unforgivable

While others claim radical groups that are against girls' education could be behind the incidents, alternatively the state may be working to take revenge against those who rose up following the murder in police custody of Mahsa Emini in September.

What was the approach of the Iranian administration?

At first, no statement was made from the higher ranks in the face of the incident. However, the increase in cases in the last week has prompted a response from Tehran.

In a statement on 3 March, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi blamed "enemies of Iran" for the poisoning of schoolgirls. While Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei said the perpetrators would be punished "in the most severe way."

READ: More schoolgirls hospitalised in Iran after suspected poisoning

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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