110 people arrested over mystery gas incidents at girls' schools in Iran
Iranian authorities have arrested more than 100 people in connection with a recent wave of suspected poisonings of schoolgirls across the country, believed to have been an attempt to stop them from attending school.
General Saeed Montazerolmehdi, a police spokesperson, announced that 110 arrests had taken place in remarks carried by Iranian media. Police also confiscated thousands of stink bombs, indicating that some of the alleged attacks may have been copycat pranks.
The first cases came to light in November 2022 in Qom, a city 125km (80 miles) to the southwest of the capital Tehran, where 18 students were treated in hospital after the release of a "posionous gas" at the Noor Yazdanshahr Conservatory, according to reports in local media.
One student told the regime-affiliated ISNA news agency that she lost feeling in her legs while others complained of finding it difficult to breathe. Some parents refused to send their children into school as a precaution
There were sporadic cases in the weeks following the Qom incidents, including more in that city, as well as in Tehran and the city of Boroujerd, around 400km (248 miles) from the capital. One boys' school was reportedly also targeted.
Since the beginning of March, however, there has been a dramatic increase in cases, with reports coming in from 23 out of the country's 31 provinces by 6 March affecting hundreds of schools across the Islamic Republic.
Mystery surrounds who is carrying out the incidents, why they are doing it - or even whether they are actually a series of attacks. In neighbouring Afghanistan, religious extremists have targeted schools to prevent girls from attending in recent years.
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However, there is no history of such activities in Iran, even at the height of the Islamic revolution in 1979. Some government officials have even suggested that mass hysteria might have played a role in the spread of reports.
As part of a wider crackdown, the government has harried reporters covering the poisonings. A government panel investigating the incidents said as many as 5,000 students have complained of being sickened in 230 schools across 25 provinces.
A human rights group has put the number at more than 7,000 students.