Hundreds Of Schoolgirls In Iran Suffer 'Poisoning' Attacks: What Is Happening?

Iran's president Ebrahim Raisi has ordered an investigation after hundreds of students at about 30 girls' schools across cities winded up in hospital beds with symptoms of poisoning.

Protests in Iran after the custodial death of a 22-year-old arrested by the countrys moral police f

Amid the ongoing anti-Hijab protests in Iran, dozens of schoolgirls have been falling ill due to deliberate poisoning caused by “chemical compounds”, a senior Iranian official was quoted as saying by local reports. A series of incidents have come to light since November last year in what is being suspected as an attack on women's education in the country.

On Thursday, White House national security spokesman John Kirby told media persons that the reports of poisoned school girls in Iran were "deeply concerning" and the world needs to know what is causing the ailments.

Iran's president Ebrahim Raisi had on Wednesday ordered an investigation after hundreds of students at about 30 girls' schools across cities winded up in hospital beds. While there have been no casualties yet, children complained of headaches, heart palpitations, and feeling lethargic. Some described the symptoms as being unable to move, others were smelling tangerines, chlorine or cleaning agents.

What is happening at Iran’s schools?

Unlike neighbouring Afghanistan, Iran did not have a history of religious extremists targeting girls' education. Women and girls continued attending school even at the height of the 1979 Islamic Revolution that toppled Iran's Western-backed monarchy. In 2014, suspected extremists attacked women with acid for not dressing conservatively enough around the Iranian city of Isfahan. But there's no opposition to women's education in Shiite Islam, and Iran has even called on the Taliban in Afghanistan to let women and girls return to school.

However, the poisonings come at a sensitive time when the country is facing months of widespread protests in the aftermath of a young woman’s death in September after being arrested by the morality police for allegedly violating Iran's strict Islamic dress code.

The first incident of mass poisoning was reported on November 30 last year, when 18 schoolgirls were hospitalised after falling sick due to an alleged gas poisoning. Two weeks later, over 100 more students from 13 schools in Qom were taken to hospitals, CNN reported.

Reports also said that in Borujerd, about 200 schoolgirls were allegedly poisoned in the past week at four different schools.  At the Khayyam Girls' School, in Pardis, near Tehran, 37 more girl students fell ill this week.

How has the state responded?

Iran’s deputy health minister Younes Panahi admitted that the poisonings were deliberate. He said that “certain individuals sought the closure of all schools, especially girls’ schools,” as quoted in Iran’s state-run news agency IRNA. 

Last evening, Iran’s president also addressed the poisonings publicly for the first time at a cabinet meeting, asking the Interior Ministry to probe the incidents, with help from the health and intelligence ministries, and promptly release the results to the public, the state-run IRNA news agency reported.

The night before the Cabinet meeting, a senior security official had downplayed the matter, dismissing it as psychological warfare by unnamed enemies of the country. “Over 99 per cent of this is caused by stress, rumour and psychological war started particularly by hostile TV channels, to create a troubled and stressful situation for students and their parents,” the deputy interior minister, Majid Mirahmadi, had told state TV. “Their goal was to force schools to close.”