May 1, 2023 | Flash Brief

Iran Denies Schoolgirls Were Poisoned Despite Overwhelming Evidence

May 1, 2023 | Flash Brief

Iran Denies Schoolgirls Were Poisoned Despite Overwhelming Evidence

Latest Developments

Following an investigation, Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence announced on April 28 that no poisoning of schoolgirls has occurred in the country. Instead, the statement blamed unidentified foreign “enemies” for engineering allegations of poisoning in an effort to discredit the Islamic Republic. The statement denies overwhelming evidence that gas poisonings have taken place, effectively dismissing the experiences of thousands of student victims in some 460 attacks in approximately 140 cities since November. Over the weekend, a gas poisoning of a girls’ school in the Iranian city of Andimeshk sent some 50 students to the hospital.

Expert Analysis

“As these attacks continue, the regime has gone back to its favorite method of denial and blaming everyone besides itself. The regime’s claim that schoolgirls are faking the symptoms is particularly outrageous. The least that Western governments can do is to impose sanctions on regime officials and initiate an investigation into what is going on in Iran.” Saeed Ghasseminejad, FDD Senior Iran and Financial Economics Advisor

“As expected, the Islamic Republic is once again pointing a finger of blame abroad for crises created by itself at home. The Islamist regime and its security apparatus are the only ones with the both the intention and capability to carry out such far-reaching chemical attacks on their own youth, and, in particular, schoolgirls. The dismissal of evidence and the reliance on a tried-and-true playbook of denial and deflection rub salt in the wounds of the almost 500 cases of poisonings against young students in Iran.” — Behnam Ben Taleblu, FDD Senior Fellow

The Attacks

The first poisonings reportedly occurred in late November 2022 among 18 schoolgirls and staff at the Nour Technical School in the religious center of Qom, approximately 80 miles southwest of Tehran. The girls went to the hospital with symptoms that included headaches, heart palpitations, respiratory problems, nausea, dizziness, lethargy, and inability to move, according to media reports. The same school experienced another round of poisonings on December 13. Still, it was only in March 2023 that the poisonings came to dominate Iranian political debates as the number of attacks increased and their geographical distribution spread.

Regime Deflects Blame

The Islamic Republic likely perpetrated the attacks in response to the revolutionary protests that have consumed the country since September 2022, when government agents killed 22-year-old Mahsa Amini for allegedly wearing her headscarf improperly. In a country like Iran, where the government has tight control over society, it is unlikely that anti-regime groups could have engaged in such operations. In addition, dissident groups have no incentive to target schoolgirls in the middle of a revolution promoting women’s rights.

Iran’s denial that the poisonings took place marks its most glaring attempt to deflect responsibility for the attacks. In the past, the regime had at least recognized there had been poisonings. When 104 chemical attacks occurred on March 6 alone, Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, acknowledged the problem, saying the “poisonings are a grave and unforgivable crime” that warrant “the most severe of punishments.”

Chemical Attacks on Iranian Students,” by Saeed Ghasseminejad and Mark Dubowitz

Who Is Poisoning Iranian Schoolgirls?” by Reuel Marc Gerecht and Ray Takeyh

New Chemical Attacks in Iran Hospitalize Schoolgirls,” FDD Flash Brief


Iran Iran Human Rights Iran Politics and Economy Iran-backed Terrorism