Iran makes first arrest for poisoning schoolgirls, cases above 5,000: report

Iran announced on Tuesday that it has made the first arrests in the mysterious poisoning of schoolgirls that affected more than 5,000 pupils since late November.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called on Monday to track down the perpetrators of the “unforgivable crime” “without mercy” as public anger grew.

“Several people” were arrested in six provinces, including the parents of a student, on suspicion of manufacturing dangerous substances, the interior ministry said in a statement on Tuesday.

Iran’s Deputy Interior Minister Majid Mirhmadi told state television on Tuesday that “intelligence agencies” had made several arrests, “and relevant agencies are conducting a full investigation”.

Hundreds of Iranian schools have been hit by the poisoning since late November, with pupils suffering symptoms ranging from shortness of breath to nausea and dizziness after reporting an “unpleasant” smell in school premises. Some have been treated in hospital.

“Twenty-five (out of 31) provinces and about 230 schools have been affected, and more than 5,000 schoolgirls and boys have been poisoned,” Mohammad-Hasan Asfari, a member of the parliamentary fact-finding committee, told the ISNA news agency on Monday. ,

“Various tests are being conducted to identify the type and cause of the poisoning. So far, no specific information has been received about the type of poison used.”

The mystery poisoning has sparked a wave of anger and calls for action from the authorities.

Read also: Revenge poison? Iran schoolgirls fall ill after possible poisonous gas attack

The arrests were made in Khuzestan, Western Azerbaijan, Fars, Kermanshah, Khorasan and Alborz provinces, according to the Interior Ministry statement.

The statement said one of those arrested had allegedly used her own child to “haunt” the school, and then recorded videos of sick students, which were used to “instill fear and close schools.” “Hostile media” were sent to do this.

It added that the three suspects have criminal records “including involvement in recent riots”, a term used by Iranian authorities to describe protests following the death of Mahsa Amini in custody.

Amini, 22, was arrested for allegedly flouting strict dress rules for women and died on September 16.

‘Fear and Despair’

President Ibrahim Raisi last week tasked the interior and intelligence ministries to provide frequent updates on the poisoning cases, calling them “an enemy plot to instill fear and despair” among the people.

“Less than five percent of the students transferred to the hospital were found to have stimulants that worsened their health,” the interior ministry said on Monday.

“Fortunately, so far, no toxic or dangerous substances have been found in any of the students transferred to the medical centers.”

Deputy Health Minister Saeed Karimi said symptoms included “shortness of breath, abdominal pain, weakness and lethargy”.

He added, “Inhaled irritants may not necessarily be gases, but may also be in the form of powder or paste or liquid, which when put on a heater or vaporized by heat, can lead to complications “

The latest case – reported by the ISNA news agency – involved 40 students, all of them female, in the restive southeastern city of Zahedan on Tuesday.

The White House on Monday called for a “credible independent investigation” into the poisoning.

A month after the Amini protests, which later spread to universities and schools, the first cases were reported in Qom, Iran’s Shiite clerical capital, in late November.

The judiciary’s Mizan Online website reported that on Tuesday Tehran’s prosecutor Ali Salehi warned “those who spread lies and rumours” about the poisoning that “they will be dealt with decisively and legally.”

“In the past week, court cases and charges have been filed against the managers of Hammihan, Rouydad 24 and Sharg Media, as well as several individuals,” Salehi said.

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