Saturday , 25 May 2024

Shia Extremists Suspected In Schoolgirl Poisonings In Iran

Iranwire – Women’s right to education is still not fully recognized in Iran, where Shia fundamentalists continue to try and prevent girls from attending school, possibly by poisoning them.

Hundreds of Iranian schoolgirls have fallen sick and scores have been hospitalized in the religious city of Qom over the past three months, triggering growing suspicion they had been poisoned.

On February 26, Deputy Health Minister Younes Panahi implicitly confirmed the poisonings had been deliberate, saying that “some people wanted all schools, especially girls’ schools, to be closed,” according to the IRNA state news agency.

Panahi did not elaborate.

Since late November, reports indicate that at least 352 school students, mostly girls, have been treated for poisoning symptoms in Qom, including nausea, headaches, coughing, breathing difficulties, and heart palpitations.

The poisonings began on November 30 in Qom, in central Iran, and affected 60 schools there, mainly girls’ secondary schools.

Similar incidents took place in schools in Tehran, the northeastern city of Borojerd and Ardabil, in the northwest. According to unconfirmed social media reports, schoolgirls have also been poisoned in the northeastern city of Mashhad.

The incidents have sparked outrage among the families of the affected students. On February 14, they held a protest outside the governor’s office in Qom, criticizing the authorities for failing to find the cause of the poisonings and urging them to ensure the safety of their children.

So far, no arrest has been announced in relation to the poisonings.

The Main Suspects

There have been speculations that radical Islamist groups may have been involved in the poisonings.

In a February 26 interview with Shargh newspaper, university professor Mohammad Taqi Fazel Meybodi said that a group called Hezaregara Shias may have played a role.

According to Meybodi, this group has many supporters in Qom and Borojerd who think that girls should not be allowed to study.

Its followers believe in the imminent end of the current world system and the emergence of the 12th Imam. Twelver Shia followers believe their 12th imam, the Mahdi, disappeared in 947 and remains “hidden” until his return.

A group called Fadaiyan Velayat claimed responsibility for the poisonings in a statement published on eitaa.com, an instant messaging network under the supervision of the Islamic Republic. The message was quickly removed.

The group has also claimed involvement in a 1988 attack on the house of late scholar Hossein Ali Montazeri.

According to reports on social media, its followers distribute leaflets in Qom at night in which they threaten to poison girls if their schools were not closed.

Other Unanswered Questions

It remains unclear what has caused the poisonings.

Some students who have fallen ill have complained of an “unknown” or “unpleasant” smell.

In a February 27 report published by Hammihan newspaper, two students from a school in Borojerd claimed to have witnessed an object like a small bomb being thrown into the schoolyard.

There is also no clear information about the possible side effects of the poisonings.

According to sources, some poisoned students have suffered lasting numbness in their legs and vision loss. There have even been reports of one victim going blind and dying.

Education authorities have maintained schools open despite the parents and teachers calling for the classes to be held online.

The lack of arrests raises suspicion that security institutions are either cooperating with the attackers or attempting to cover up the incidents.

An informed source at Qom’s Valiasr Hospital told Radio Farda that the army’s presence in the facility was hindering staff from doing their jobs properly. They caused panic, monitored the staff, and took the children’s blood test results to their own laboratory.

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