Probe Underway on Poisoning of Hundreds of Iranian Girls

Some believe monthslong chemical incidents are 'biological terrorism' to keep girls out of schools
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 1, 2023 9:20 AM CST
Probe Underway on Poisoning of Hundreds of Iranian Girls
Iranian schoolgirls are seen in Tehran on Feb, 10, 2009.   (AP Photo/Hasan Sarbakhshian)

Since November, dozens of girls in Iran have fallen ill after attending school, suffering from dizziness, fatigue, nausea, headaches, heart palpitations, and respiratory issues, among other maladies. Some parents say their children were sick for weeks afterward. Now, Iranian officials have launched a probe, with reports of hundreds of girls poisoned at 30 or so schools in what some say is a deliberate attempt to keep them from getting their education, per the AP. The BBC notes that the first report of a poisoning came Nov. 30 out of the Nour Technical School in the religious city of Qom, in Qom province, in an incident that sent 18 girls to the hospital. After that, girls in at least 10 other schools in that region appear to have been targeted, and the incidents have since expanded into other parts of the country.

In the past week alone, nearly 200 girls have been reported poisoned at a handful of schools in Borujerd, in the province of Lorestan. Some of the girls involved say they remember smelling tangerines, chlorine, or rotting fish before they became sick. At first, authorities thought maybe what was going on was a bout of carbon monoxide poisoning. But on Sunday, the nation's deputy health minister, Younes Panahi, said the girls had indeed been sickened by chemicals that "are not military grade and are publicly available," though he added that none of the girls needed "invasive treatment" and urged everyone to "maintain calm." Panahi said one other thing that raised eyebrows: it's "evident that some people wanted all schools ... to be closed down."

He later walked that statement back, suggesting a possible rift in how government officials want to describe what's going on, but others picked up on what he'd said and agreed. Some speculate that the poisonings may be an attempt by Islamic hardliners to emulate the Taliban, while others say they may be "revenge" for schoolgirls who've been protesting over the death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian woman who died after being arrested for not wearing a hijab. "In my opinion, this chemical attack is revenge by the Islamic Republic against the brave women who [rejected] the mandatory hijab and shook the 'Berlin Wall' of [Ayatollah Ali] Khamenei," an Iranian human rights activist based in New York tells the Guardian, calling the poisonings "biological terrorism." (More Iran stories.)

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