More than 300 poisoning incidents have occurred at schools around Iran, which critics argue could not happen without Tehran’s acknowledgment or approval.
“These attacks are most probably designed to punish and scare the Iranian people for the widespread protests that erupted in September 2022 after the murder of Mahsa Amini,” Saeed Ghasseminejad, senior Iran and financial economics adviser at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), told Fox News Digital.
The FDD, a Washington, D.C.-based nonpartisan think tank, tracked attacks across Iran and counted 328 chemical attacks as of April 14, sourcing information from local reports and videos posted on Twitter. Most reports included the number of victims, ranging from a dozen to almost 100 in some cases.
Ghasseminejad, who was a prisoner in the infamous Evin Prison in Tehran for opposing the clerical regime in Tehran, squarely blamed the incidents on Iran’s government and argued that such attacks could not have happened – especially in the significant numbers they have – if the government was not at least supportive of them.
“The sustained, sophisticated and widespread chemical attacks against schools, primarily targeting girls, have the regime’s fingerprints on them,” Ghasseminejad said.
“Given the totalitarian nature of the regime in Tehran and its massive investment in and obsession with monitoring and controlling the society, it is preposterous to believe that such attacks could have happened without the green light from the security and intelligence establishment.”
Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi in March ordered authorities to investigate some of the poisonings, which occurred at girls’ schools, describing them as “noxious fumes” that made the girls sick. Authorities at the time suggested the attacks mainly targeted women’s education, but the FDD report noted at least half a dozen incidents targeting boys’ and mixed schools as well.
Children complained of headaches, heart palpitations, feeling lethargic or otherwise unable to move. Some described smelling tangerines, chlorine or cleaning agents.
At a cabinet meeting, Raisi said the Interior Ministry should probe the incidents with help from the health and intelligence ministries and promptly release the results to the public, marking the first public acknowledgment of the poisonings. A senior official one day before the acknowledgment tried to downplay the matter as “psychological warfare” by unnamed enemies of the country.
“Over 99% of this is caused by stress, rumor and psychological war started particularly by hostile TV channels to create a troubled and stressful situation for students and their parents,” the deputy interior minister, Majid Mirahmadi, told state TV. “Their goal was to force schools to close.”
Protests broke out across Iran following the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini on Sept. 16, 2022, who was rushed to a hospital after the country’s so-called morality police took her into custody for allegedly not wearing her hijab – or headscarf – correctly.
Witnesses describe her as looking as if she had been beaten. She died an hour after she arrived at the hospital.
The resulting protests have continued since then, displaying the greatest resistance to the regime since the 1980s.
The regime announced in March that it had pardoned some 22,000 protesters who were arrested during the protests. The statement by Iran’s judiciary head, Gholam-Hossein Mohseni-Ejei, offered for the first time a glimpse of the full scope of the government’s crackdown.
It also suggests that Iran’s theocracy now feels secure enough to admit the scale of the unrest.
The regime has sentenced several individuals to death, with three people sentenced to death in January on charges of “waging war on God.” The three men – Saleh Mirhashemi, Majid Kazemi and Saeid Yaghoubi – were accused of killing members of the Basij militia, a paramilitary group affiliated with the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps.
“These executions are a key component of the regime’s effort to suppress protests,” State Department spokesperson Ned Price tweeted recently. “We continue to work with partners to pursue accountability for Iran’s brutal crackdown.”
Despite acknowledging that the regime has carried out an extreme and “brutal” crackdown on the protests, the Biden administration remains committed to pursuing the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) – also known as the Iran nuclear deal.
It’s been reported that a return to the deal would give Tehran access to some $275 billion in financial benefits during its first year alone.
Negotiations over the deal hit a snag late last year as U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken admitted that talks had gone “backwards” as Iran continued to add “extraneous demands, demands unrelated to the JCPOA itself.”
Naftali Bennett, who served as Israel’s prime minister between 2021 and 2022 as part of a rotational agreement for a coalition government, argued that Iran’s role as a major backer of proxy groups and motivator for terrorism in the region should make it of paramount importance to keep the country from attaining weapons-grade uranium and from allowing it economic relief.
“Iran is the epicenter of the terror in the whole region,” he told Fox News Digital in an exclusive interview. “When you see the terror, that’s Iran, when you see Hezbollah terror, that’s Iran. Islamic Jihad terror, that’s Iran,” he said. “Iran is an empire of terror that is funding, training, arming and ultimately giving commands to its arms that are enveloping the entire region, and that’s why the correct policy is to hit Iran at its head, not to fight the arms, but to go to the jugular.”
The Iranian mission to the U.N. did not respond to a Fox News Digital request for comment by time of publication.
Fox News Digital’s Andrew Murray and Paul Best and the Associated Press contributed to this report.