The Hamilton Spectator

Suspected schoolgirl poisoning attacks rattle a shaken Iran


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.

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 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.

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.

Attacks have raised fears that other girls could be poisoned apparently just for seeking an education

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