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Iran has arrested 110 suspects in mass schoolgirl poisonings, police say

Iran makes arrests in suspected poisonings
Iran makes first arrests in suspected schoolgirl poisonings 04:21

Iranian police said Wednesday that 110 suspects have been arrested in connection with the mysterious poisonings of thousands of girls in schools across the country.

Students say they have been sickened by noxious fumes in incidents dating back to November that have mainly occurred in girls' schools. Authorities say they are investigating, but there has been no word on who might be behind the incidents or what — if any — chemicals have been used.

Unlike neighboring Afghanistan, Iran has no history of religious extremists targeting women's education, even during the height of its 1979 Islamic Revolution. There have been no reported fatalities linked to the schoolgirl poisonings, and some officials have suggested that mass hysteria might have played a role.

Gen. Saeed Montazerolmehdi, the police spokesperson, announced the arrests in remarks carried by Iranian media. He also said police had confiscated thousands of stink bomb toys, indicating that some of the alleged attacks might have been copycat pranks.

A woman holds a placard with a drawing of a girl wearing gas
A woman holds a placard depicting a girl wearing a gas mask during a demonstration against hundreds of cases of girls being poisoned in schools in Iran, March 4, 2023 in Madrid, Spain. Diego Radamas/SOPA Images/LightRocket/Getty

Others appear to be more serious, with hundreds of students hospitalized, according to local media reports and rights groups.

Iran has heavily restricted independent media and arrested dozens of journalists since the outbreak of nationwide antigovernment protests last September. It has also targeted reporters covering the poisonings, even as officials have provided few details about what is happening.

Iranian authorities announced the first arrests linked to the suspected poisonings last week. At the time, Iran's deputy Interior Minister, Majid Mirahmadi, said on state television, "A number of people have been arrested in five provinces and the relevant agencies are conducting a full investigation."

More than 1,200 Iranian girls from at least 60 different schools have become ill since last November as a result of what may have been chemical or biological attacks, according to Iranian state media and government officials. The true number of schoolgirls targeted in the attacks could be much higher that what is reported.

Wave of poison attacks on schoolgirls alarms Iranians
A young woman lies in hospital after reports of poisoning at an unspecified location in Iran in this still image from video from March 2, 2023.  WANA/Reuters TV

A lawmaker on a government panel investigating the incidents said earlier this month that as many as 5,000 students have complained of being sickened in 230 schools across 25 provinces. Human Rights Activists in Iran, a group that has closely monitored the recent protests, has put the number at over 7,000 students.

Reports of schoolgirl poisonings spiked earlier this month. Students who appeared to have been targeted described smelling unexplained odors, which some likened to paint, perfume or something burning, before they began to experience numbness, temporary paralysis or near blackouts.

"It certainly sounds like a chemical or biological event," Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, a British chemical weapons expert, told CBS News. "That is not something that appears to be naturally occurring." 

The World Health Organization documented what might have been a similar phenomenon in Afghanistan from 2009 to 2012, when hundreds of girls across the country complained of strange smells and poisoning. No evidence was found to support the suspicions, and WHO said it appeared to be a "mass psychogenic illness."

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