Middle East

Over 100 arrested in Iran over serial poisoning of schoolgirls

Serial poisoning of schoolgirls has sent ripples of shock across Iran

Syed Zafar Mehdi  | 11.03.2023 - Update : 12.03.2023
Over 100 arrested in Iran over serial poisoning of schoolgirls


More than 100 people have been arrested in Iran in connection with the serial poisoning of schoolgirls, according to the Interior Ministry on Saturday.

A ministry statement said more than 100 people were "identified, arrested and investigated" in Tehran, Qom, Zanjan, Khuzestan, Hamedan, Fars, Gilan, West Azerbaijan, East Azerbaijan, and Razavi Khorasan.

At least 1,200 schoolgirls have been admitted to hospitals in several Iranian cities in recent months after they complained of severe poisoning-related symptoms. Some reports have put the figure for hospitalizations even higher.

President Ebrahim Raisi has ordered Interior Minister Ahmad Vahidi to investigate the mysterious illness after it sent ripples of shock across the country and sparked protests from concerned parents.

The ministry, citing preliminary results of the probe, said arrests made in the case include people who "out of mischief or adventure and intending to close schools" used "smelly and harmless substances" that resulted in poisonings.

The statement said the detainees include those "with hostile motives" and "the aim of instilling terror in people and students" and "closing schools and creating hostility towards the system", while referring to their "possible links" with the Mujahideen e Khalq Organization (MEK), an Iranian opposition group based in Albania.

Since last week, the ministry said, the number of poisoning cases has "decreased significantly" and that educational activities have returned to normal.

The latest statement came less than a week after the ministry announced first arrests in the high-profile case in at least five provinces.

The first cases of these poisonings were reported in November in the central Iranian city of Qom when 18 schoolgirls were admitted to a hospital after complaining of symptoms such as nausea, headache, breathing problems, cough and body pain.

From Qom, a popular site of religious tourism in Iran, the mysterious wave spread to other cities in subsequent weeks, including the capital Tehran, fueling shock and outrage.

In a preliminary report released last week, the Interior Ministry said "no toxic substance was found" in the samples taken from students affected by the poisoning.

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in his first comments on the issue on March 6, called it a “big and unforgivable sin”, instructing the relevant authorities to “seriously pursue the matter”.

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