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Iran arrests school poisoning suspects as case count surpasses 5,000

TEHRAN — Iran announced Tuesday it has made the first arrests in a spate of mysterious schoolgirl poisonings that have affected more than 5,000 students since late November.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Monday called for the perpetrators of the “unforgivable crime” to be “mercilessly” tracked down as public anger mounts.

The interior ministry said in a statement on Tuesday that “several people” suspected of manufacturing dangerous substances have been arrested in six provinces, including a parent of a schoolboy.

Iran’s deputy interior minister, Majid Mirahmadi, told state television on Tuesday that the “intelligence services” had made several arrests “and the relevant authorities are conducting a full investigation.”

Poisoning has swept scores in Iranian schools since late November, with students suffering symptoms ranging from shortness of breath to nausea and dizziness after reporting “unpleasant” odors on school premises. Some were treated in hospital.

“Twenty-five (out of 31) provinces and about 230 schools have been affected, and more than 5,000 school girls and boys have been poisoned,” Mohammad-Hassan Asafari, a member of the parliamentary inquiry committee, told ISNA news agency on Monday.

“Various tests are being carried out to identify the nature and cause of the poisoning. So far, no concrete information has been obtained about the type of poison used.”

The mysterious poisoning has sparked a wave of anger and calls for action for authorities.

According to the Interior Ministry statement, arrests were made in Khuzestan, West Azerbaijan, Fars, Kermanshah, Khorasan and Alborz provinces.

One of those arrested allegedly used his child to introduce the “stimulant” into the school and then took videos of sick students, which were sent to “hostile media” to “incite fear… and close schools,” it said in the statement.

It added that three suspects have criminal records “including involvement in the recent unrest,” a term used by Iranian authorities to describe the protests sparked by Mahsa Amini’s death in custody.

Amini, 22, was arrested for allegedly violating strict women’s dress codes and died on September 16.

– ‘Fear and Despair’ –

President Ebrahim Raisi last week tasked the interior and intelligence ministries with providing ongoing updates on the poisoning cases, calling them “enemy conspiracies to create fear and despair among the people.”

“Less than five percent of the students hospitalized were found to have irritants that affected their health,” the Interior Ministry said on Monday.

“Fortunately, no toxic or dangerous substances have been found in any of the students who have been transferred to medical centers.”

Deputy Health Minister Saeed Karimi said the symptoms were “respiratory irritation, abdominal pain, weakness and lethargy”.

“These inhaled irritants don’t necessarily have to be a gas, but can be in the form of a powder or paste, or even a liquid, which when poured over a heater or vaporized by heat can cause complications,” he added.

The latest case – reported by the ISNA news agency – involved 40 high school students in the troubled southeastern city of Zahedan on Tuesday.

The White House on Monday called for a “credible independent investigation” into the poisoning.

The first cases were reported in late November in Qom, Iran’s Shia spiritual capital, a month after the Amini protests that later spread to universities and schools.

On Tuesday, Tehran’s prosecutor Ali Salehi warned “those who spread lies and rumors” about the poisonings that “they will be dealt with decisively and legally,” reported the judiciary’s website, Mizan Online.

“Last week, court cases and indictments were filed against media executives Hammihan, Rouydad 24 and Shargh, as well as several individuals,” Salehi added.

Source: Crypto News Deutsch

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