Faced with international outcry for inaction over the chemical gas attacks on school and university girls, the Islamic Republic authorities have started to blame them on “enemies.”
Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi on Friday described the wave of poisonings of hundreds of schoolgirls around the country as part of a psychological war by the enemies meant “to instill stress and anxiety among students and parents, creating chaos.” He did not say who those enemies are but in the Islamic Republic jargon, the ‘enemies’ usually mean as the United States and Israel, and recently every entity and individual who has expressed support for the current wave of antiregime protests.
“One day, the enemies instigate street riots and another day they try to create problems in the field of education and schools because despite all the plots, people across the country came to the scene and defeated the enemy,” he said, and then referred to state-sponsored demonstrations in February to mark the 44th anniversary of the regime as a victory.
Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian
Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian on Friday also hit out at Western governments. “The interventionist reaction of some Western authorities to the question of the suspected poisoning of dear Iranian female students is the continuation of the enemy's hybrid war,” he wrote in a Twitter post.
He claimed that “the relevant institutions of the country are following up seriously and meticulously examining its dimensions. The great nation of Iran knows crocodile tears very well!” He made the remarks as the authorities have not yet allowed media or parents to view the content of surveillance cameras around the schools, which were attacked.
The so-far unexplained poisonous gas attacks at about 60 schools and girl dormitories in one-third of the country’s provinces began November 30 when the first case of poisoning among schoolgirls was reported in the religious city of Qom. Around 1,000 students have become ill with the mysteriously dispersed, unidentified fumes so far. The country's interior minister, Ahmad Vahidi, an ex-IRGC top officer wanted by Interpol for his part in the bombing of a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires in 1994, has been tasked with leading the investigation, though he has so far denied fowl play.
Many suspect the schools have been targeted by religious groups opposed to girls' education. The authorities have also denied reports that the death of 11-year-old Fatemeh Rezaei was linked to the poisonings.
Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesman Nasser Kanaani urged other countries not to comment on the issues in Iran and described the calls for investigations by right groups and officials as “interventions and dramatic” statements.
Meanwhile, even religious leaders – both Shiites who are among the inner circles of the regime and Sunnis such as Mowlavi Abdolhamid -- have spoken out against government’s inadequate reaction to the poisonings.
Tasnim news agency, affiliated with the Revolutionary Guards, cited Reza Karimi Saleh, the deputy governor of Pardis suburb where one of the attacks happened as saying that a fuel tanker driver was arrested because he was next to a school and had also been spotted in two other cities. "Guards at a parking lot where the fuel tanker was parked also suffered from poisoning."
Many have started questioning the efficiency of the intelligence agencies, which are very fast in identifying protesters and arresting them, while others say those responsible for the gas attacks are not identified because the regime already knows they are insiders.
Ravina Shamdasani, spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
In Geneva, the United Nations human rights office on Friday called for a transparent investigation into the attacks. Ravina Shamdasani, spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said on Friday that "We're very concerned about these allegations that girls are being deliberately targeted under what appear to be mysterious circumstances.” She said that the findings of a government investigation should be made public, and the perpetrators brought to justice.