Iranian president blames ‘foreign enemies’ for schoolgirl poisonings

TEHRAN (Agencies): Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi on Friday blamed a wave of poisonings of hundreds of schoolgirls around the country on Tehran’s enemies.

The so-far unexplained poison attacks at more than 30 schools in at least four cities started in November in Iran’s holy city of Qom, prompting some parents to take their children out of school.

Iran’s health minister said on Tuesday that hundreds of girls in different schools have suffered and some politicians have suggested they could have been targeted by religious groups opposed to girls’ education.

Raisi, speaking to a crowd in southern Iran on Friday in a speech carried live on state television, blamed the poisoning on Iran’s enemies.

 “This is a security project to cause chaos in the country whereby the enemy seeks to instill fear and insecurity among parents and students,” he said.

He did not say who those enemies were although Iranian leaders habitually accuse the US and Israel, among others, of acting against it.

Separately, a senior Iranian official said a fuel tanker found next to a school in a Tehran suburb and which had also been spotted in two other cities was probably involved in the poisonings.

Authorities seized the tanker and arrested its driver, Reza Karimi Saleh, deputy governor of Pardis suburb, told the semi-official Tasnim news agency.

He is the first government official to report an arrest in connection with the wave of poisonings.

He said the same tanker had also been to Qom and Boroujerd, in Lorestan province in western Iran, where students have also suffered from poisoning. He did not elaborate.

“Guards at a parking lot where the fuel tanker was parked also suffered from poisoning,” Saleh said, referring to the Pardis site.

In Geneva, the UN human rights office on Friday called for a transparent investigation into the attacks.

“We’re very concerned about these allegations that girls are being deliberately targeted under what appear to be mysterious circumstances,” Ravina Shamdasani, spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, told a briefing. She said the findings of a government investigation should be made public and the perpetrators brought to justice.

Some Iranian politicians have suggested the schoolgirls could have been targeted by religious groups opposed to girls’ education.

Social media posts are replete with photos and videos of hospitalized girls. Some said they were nauseated and suffered heart palpitations. Others complained of headaches or heart palpitations.

Schoolgirls have also taken part in the anti-government protests triggered by the death in custody of an Iranian-Kurdish woman last September. They have removed their mandatory hijabs in classrooms, torn up pictures of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and called for his death.

In one online video last year, schoolgirls are seen waving their headscarves in the air and heckling a member of Iran’s paramilitary Basij force.

Germany’s top diplomat urged a full and transparent investigation into the incidents.

“The reports of schoolgirls being poisoned in Iran are shocking,” Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said on Twitter.

“Girls must be able to go to school without fear — whether in Tehran or Ardabil. This is nothing less than their human right,” Baerbock said.

“All the cases must be fully investigated,” she said.

World Health Organization spokeswoman Margaret Harris meanwhile said the UN health agency was in contact with national health authorities and medical professionals about the incidents, and was “using other means to understand more about the event so that we have better evidence.”

The poisonings have provoked a wave of anger across the country, with critics denouncing official silence in the face of the growing number of schools reportedly being targeted.

Relations between Germany and Iran have been particularly strained following the wave of protest that erupted over the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in September last year.

Baerbock herself has been at the forefront of Western voices condemning Tehran’s bloody crackdown on demonstrations and its executions of anti-government protesters.

Meanwhile, Tehran on Thursday expelled two German diplomats in a tit-for-tat move after Berlin took similar action in response to a death sentence handed down against German Iranian dual national, Jamshid Sharmahd.