Iran: New gas attacks on around 10 girls’ schools are suspected on Wednesday. After a new spate of suspected gas attacks, over 100 students were hospitalised. As per reports, several of the schools (which were attacked) are located in the northwestern city of Ardabil and three in Tehran.
Over 108 students hospitalised
According to a report by the Tasnim news agency, around 108 students were hospitalised. As of now, their condition is said to be stable. The news agency also reported poisoning at three schools in Tehran.
Over the past three months, hundreds of young girls attending different schools in Iran have become overpowered by what are believed to be noxious fumes wafting into their classrooms, with some ending up weakened on hospital beds. Officials in Iran’s theocracy initially dismissed these incidents, but now describe them as intentional attacks involving some 30 schools identified in local media reports, with some speculating they could be aimed at trying to close schools for girls in this country of over 80 million people.
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Authorities have not named suspects
The reported attacks come at a sensitive time for Iran, which already has faced months of protests after the September death of Mahsa Amini following her arrest by the country’s morality police. The authorities have not named suspects, but the attacks have raised fears that other girls could be poisoned apparently just for seeking an education — something that’s never been challenged before in the over 40 years since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
Iran itself also has been calling on the Taliban in neighbouring Afghanistan to have girls and women return to school. The first cases emerged in late November in Qom, some 125 kilometres (80 miles) southwest of Iran’s capital, Tehran. There, in a heartland of Shiite theologians and pilgrims, students at the Noor Yazdanshahr Conservatory fell ill in November. They then fell ill again in December.
Children complaining about headaches, heart palpitations and more
Other cases followed, with children complaining about headaches, heart palpitations, feeling lethargic, or otherwise unable to move. Some described smelling tangerines, chlorine or cleaning agents. At first, authorities didn’t link the cases. It’s winter in Iran, where temperatures often drop below freezing at night. Many schools are heated by natural gas, leading to speculation it could be carbon monoxide poisoning affecting the girls. The country’s education minister initially dismissed the reports as “rumours”.
But the schools affected at first only taught young women, fuelling suspicion it wasn’t accidental. At least one case followed in Tehran, with others in Qom and Boroujerd. At least one boys’ school has been targeted as well. Slowly, officials began taking the claims seriously. Iran’s prosecutor-general ordered an investigation, saying “there are possibilities of deliberate criminal acts” Iran’s Intelligence Ministry reportedly investigated as well.
Some people want girls’ schools to be closed
On Sunday, Iran’s state-run IRNA news agency filed multiple stories with officials acknowledging the scope of the crisis. “After several poisonings of students in Qom schools, it was found that some people wanted all schools, especially girls’ schools, to be closed,” IRNA quoted Younes Panahi, a deputy health minister, as saying.
A Health Ministry spokesman, Pedram Pakaieen, said the poisoning didn’t come from a virus or a microbe. Neither elaborated further. Ali Reza Monadi, a national parliament member who sits on its education committee, described the poisonings as “intentional.” The ”existence of the devil’s will to prevent girls from education is a serious danger and it is considered very bad news”, he said, according to IRNA. “We have to try to find roots” of this.
Parents have pulled their students from classes
Already, parents have pulled their students from classes, in effect shuttering some schools in Qom in recent weeks, according to a report by Shargh, a reformist news website based in Tehran. On Tuesday, another suspected attack reportedly occurred targeting a girls’ school in Pardis on the eastern outskirts of Tehran.
The poisonings come as getting verifiable information out of Iran remains difficult given the crackdown on all dissent stemming from the protests and internet slowdowns put in place by the government. At least 95 journalists have been arrested by authorities since the start of the protests, according to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists. Overall, the security force crackdown has killed at least 530 people and seen 19,700 others detained, according to Human Rights Activists in Iran.
(with input from agency)