It has been more than three months since the first chemical attack on Iranian girls’ schools was carried out.
According to the latest official reports, more than 1,000 schoolgirls in 15 Iranian provinces have been poisoned by chemical fumes so far, and the government has revealed nothing about their origin or their nature.
IranWire earlier reported that Iranian officials have been deliberately negligent in investigating the poisonings, strengthening the suspicion that these attacks have been deliberate.
IranWire has now received information that security forces have patrolled the emergency wards of three hospitals in the northwestern city of Ardebil and two in Tehran to threaten children not to talk about their poisoning.
In the past five months, schoolgirls have played a visible role in the nationwide protests triggered by the death of a 22-year-old woman, Mahsa Amini, in the custody of morality police.
The information received by IranWire shows that schoolgirls are now being targeted by a systematic campaign of intimidation.
For this report, IranWire spoke with two high school girls in Tehran and Ardebil after receiving permission from their parents, with the mother of a poisoned schoolgirl in Tehran and with a member of the medical staff of a hospital in Ardebil.
For security reasons, the names of the hospitals and the identities of the individuals interviewed will not be disclosed.
Blast Followed by Burning Smell
Sheane (an alias) is a student at a high school in Ardebil, the capital of the northwestern province of the same name. On March 1, she and her classmates were in the schoolyard when they heard a “bomb” going off.
Speaking in Turkish, she tells IranWire: “First, I thought it was the sound of a firecracker. The Charshanbeh Suri [festival] is near and you often hear similar sounds. But less than 10 minutes later the principal came to the schoolyard, took us inside and told us to close all the doors and windows. Right then, I felt that I was feeling ill.”
Besides the sound of the explosion and the smell of burning, she says she did not notice anything.
Around 20 minutes after the blast, the principal and school staff went to each class to tell the students to “leave the class silently and go home.” “They didn’t call for an ambulance even though a few of my friends and I felt dizzy, could not walk properly and felt nauseous.”
Sheane went home but the symptoms were getting worse, and her nose was bleeding. She called her father, who took her to a hospital in Ardebil.
The father was not allowed in the hospital. The same thing happened to the mother of a poisoned girl in Tehran’s Narmak neighborhood. This mother, whose daughter was poisoned on March 1, tells IranWire: “The area outside the hospital’s emergency ward was full of policemen and security agents. There were many parents standing in front of the hospital, but they would not let any of us in. They only took my daughter inside.”
“Outside the hospital, police constantly asked us to remain calm, but the atmosphere was very tense. Then one of the burly plainclothesmen came and said, ‘If you talk to foreign media, we’ll expel your children from school and make your lives miserable as well. We have all the information we need, so don’t imagine that you can get away with it.’ They’ve poisoned our children and now they threaten us.”
She quotes her daughter as telling what happened at school: “We first heard an explosion and then came the smell of rotten eggs. Some of the kids escaped and the ankles of some of them were sprained.”
A student who was poisoned at her school in Tehran’s neighborhood of Tehransar says she also heard an explosion.
Citing poisoned students, most domestic media outlets have reported about the sound of an explosion before schoolgirls fell ill.
The high school student in Tehran also says that, after the blast, the principal and her assistant hastily sent the students home without calling for an ambulance. Earlier videos posted on social media by citizen journalists show ambulances in front of schools that had been attacked. Now, it is likely that Education Ministry officials have ordered school staff not to call emergency services.
🎥 تداوم مسمومیت دانشآموزان و دانشجویان دختر؛ فضا ملتهب است#مهسا_امینی #اخبار_ایران #مسمومیت pic.twitter.com/nsZExolNkI— ایران وایر (@iranwire) March 1, 2023
The poisoning of schoolgirls and women university students continues.
About an hour before the school’s closing time, this student was told to go home even though she had poisoning symptoms. Once she got home, her parents took her to a hospital in western Tehran.
According to the teenager, there was a crowd outside the hospital, suggesting that several other schools in the area were attacked on March 1. She also reports that many policemen and plainclothes agents were deployed in front of the hospital’s emergency ward: “All doctors and nurses sympathized with us. One of the doctors was cursing the mullahs while examining me and a few others.”
IranWire has learned that the blood and urine of the poisoned students in Tehran and Ardebil were not tested to try to identify the chemicals used, at least in the cases we are reporting.
Hospital Alerted before the Attacks
A member of the medical staff of a hospital in Ardebil tells IranWire that the emergency services in the city and Pars Abad, also in Ardabil province, were put on alert hours before chemical attacks across this province were reported.
“From the early morning of Wednesday, they had put us on alert, as if they knew what was going to happen,” the source says. “My colleagues in three hospitals in Pars Abad told me that they were put on alert from the morning as well. In our hospital, the medical staff whose shifts were over were called back to the hospital. The emergency ward was overflowing. On that day, they brought perhaps 30 or 40 students from Ardebil alone to our hospital. And they brought an ambulance bus filled with schoolgirls from Aslan Duz to Pars Abad hospital because Aslan Duz has no hospital. This plus a few regular ambulances.”
Threats by Plainclothesmen
Sheane tells IranWire that during the few hours she spent in a hospital in Ardebil she could see plainclothesmen walking among the poisoned students and speaking to them.
“The kids told me that they were threatened to keep quiet,” the teenager says.
The mother whose daughter was treated in a hospital in eastern Tehran confirms the presence of security agents at the emergency ward. She tells IranWire that the area outside the hospital was filled with policemen while “agents” werewalking around in the emergency ward.
“Agents” usually refers to plainclothesmen from intelligence and security agencies such as the Intelligence Ministry and the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps.
On March 1, Interior Minister Ahmad Vahidi accused the media of “fearmongering” and denied the existence of a campaign of chemical attacks against schoolgirls. And during a visit to Fars province on March 3, President Ebrahim Raisi claimed that the “enemy” has now “launched a media campaign to create stress and anxiety among students and their parents so that it would lead to unrest.”
The New York Times in 2010 reported similar attacks in Afghanistan, when the Taliban had yet to take control of the country. “Blood tests have confirmed that a mysterious series of cases of mass sickness at girls’ schools across the country over the last two years were caused by a powerful poison gas,” the newspaper wrote, quoting an Afghan official. The compounds identified in the victims’ blood, which was tested by the Afghan Health Ministry and the World Health Organization, “are widely used in insecticides and herbicides, and are also the active ingredients of compounds developed as chemical weapons, including sarin and VX gas.”