Iran's interior ministry announced Saturday the arrest of over 100 people in eleven provinces in connection with poisoning attacks on dozens of girls’ schools.
The attacks that started three months ago have continued without any apparent effort by the government to seriously pursue the perpetrators or explain to terrified parents and students what was happening in so many schools.
In its statement, the ministry attributed some of the poisoning attacks to “pranks” by students using “foul smelling and harmless substances” in an attempt to get their classes dismissed.
“Among the detainees there are individuals with hostile motivations,” the statement said, adding that these individuals meant to cause fear and panic among the people to shut down schools and cast the blame on the regime.
“These individuals are under investigation to reveal their possible connection with terrorist organizations such as the monafeghin,” the statement said. Iranian authorities always refer to the Mujahedin-e Khalq Organization (MEK) as monafeghin (hypocrites).
The statement reveals very little about the arrests but two days earlier the local channel of the state television in Fars province aired the so-called ‘confessions’ of a man and his daughter arrested and accused of attacking schools with N2 gas canisters. The statement provided no names for those arrested or any other information.
Many ordinary Iranians have been suspicious of involvement of the regime itself, or religious extremists protected by the regime, in the school attacks and call the acts “state terrorism”.
“There is strong suspicion that the purpose of the attacks is quashing the Woman, Life, Freedom movement by instilling fear among girls and their families,” an umbrella teachers' association said while calling the attacks “bioterrorism” and demanding Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and other top religious figures to condemn the attacks expressly and decisively.
Diaspora Iranian held protests Saturday in 70 cities around the world to demand action to stop the school attacks.
The ministry said in its statement that there is a “considerable drop” in school poisoning attacks although seven more schools were affected on Saturday and tens of students had to be taken to hospital.
Attacks were reported in southwestern Khuzestan province where four schools were targeted. Tens of poisoned students had to be taken to hospitals also in southern Fars, western Kordestan and in northern Gilan provinces.
In a report Saturday, the judiciary claimed that “less than ten percent” of students reported poisoned so far had inhaled “an irritant gas which is not of weapons grade or deadly” and the remaining ninety percent were only affected by stress and other psychological factors.
In an article entitled “Casting Light On Psychological Operations Of Criminals In Student Poisoning Incidents” on Tuesday, the hardliner Mashregh news website accused a banned teachers’ association of using the attacks to wage psychological war against the Islamic Republic to revitalize the protest movement.
The article claimed that it was the MEK that described the school poisonings as ‘chemical attacks’ for the first time and alleged a connection between MEK and union activists who also referred to the incidents as chemical attacks on schools.
Earlier this month, the association urged its members and others to stage protests to demand urgent resolution to school attacks as well as teacher’s own problems including a wage increase for the next year that takes the factor of inflation into account.
In response to the association’s call, teachers and parents held rallies in dozens of cities and chanted slogans such as "death to the child-killing regime".
“Think-tanks of security and intelligence bodies are projecting their own responsibility over the poisoning of students and building new legal cases against union and civil activist,” Mohammad Habibi, spokesman of the Iran Teachers’ Trade Association, said in an Instagram post Saturday.
Habibi vowed that teachers would continue to defend “our children and their achievements [in the protest movement].” “Our message to them is clear: we will not withdraw [against pressures by the security forces].”