JERUSALEM, Israel – Anger is growing in Iran following a series of toxic chemical attacks against Iranian schoolgirls. Across the Islamic Republic, mysterious gas has poisoned hundreds of students in numerous cities. The target is schools who educate girls.
On Tuesday, Iran announced the arrests of several unnamed suspects related to the poisonings.
Majid Mirahmadi, Iran's deputy minister of interior for security and police affairs, said, "Based off intelligence work and research done by the country's intelligence bodies, authorities have identified and arrested some individuals in five provinces and are currently carrying out a full investigation."
The news follows reports that those experiencing symptoms have grown dramatically across hundreds of schools throughout Iran.
The attacks began in late November in Qom, near the capital, Tehran. While most of the targets are girls' schools, Reuters notes at least one boys' school in western Iran was also hit. In some local media reports, student say they saw strange objects landing in schoolyards. Eyewitnesses add that they heard loud bangs.
One eyewitness said, “We heard a sound like an explosion and then the students started to feel sick and taken to the hospital.”
For months, school authorities, the health ministry and other government bodies eiher denied or downplayed the incidents.
In the supreme leader's first public statement on the poisonings, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said the culprits would receive the "most severe penalty."
"(Officials) must pursue this seriously," he said. It's an important matter. If there're some hands behind this and some persons or groups are involved, this is a big and unforgivable crime."
Those opposing the regime call the attacks a "revenge tactic against young Iranian women leading the revolutionary movement that erupted across Iran in September.
Last year, Khamenei demanded punishment for those involved in the uprising. Foruq Kanani, a civil activist, told CBN News that could be the motive of the attacks.
“A punishment for the teenagers would be nice because they get aware of what they are doing," Kanani explained. "That's probably a so-called fatwa (Islamic religious directive) for many Islamists to follow that. And now it's, as I mentioned, kind of taking revenge from the teenagers, especially schoolgirls.”
While several officials have tried to blame foreign "enemies" for the attacks, families of students gathered in one Tehran school, chanting, "Death to the child-killing regime!"
Widespread footage from social media shows a concerned mother being brutally attacked by plainclothes forces for demanding answers about her poisoned daughter.
Other parents demanded to know why school security cameras were off when the poison gas spread.
While the perpetrators' intent remains unclear, many believe it is the payback for the young women fighting against the regime, and a deliberate attempt to force their schools to shut down.
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