Dozens of young girls were allegedly poisoned in several schools in Iran, local media write. With this, there is no end to a phenomenon about which there is still much uncertainty.

At least 60 students have been poisoned in a girls’ school in Haftkel,‘ in the southwestern province of Khuzestan. So writes Iran’s Iribnews news agency. Girls were also reportedly poisoned in five schools in northwestern Ardabil. They had “symptoms of anxiety, shortness of breath and headaches,” according to Ibrinews.

For months now, Iran has been plagued by mysterious poisonings in schools. The first cases were reported in November, meanwhile thousands of incidents have occurred, according to Iranian media. An official assessment on Friday talks of more than 5,000 students in more than 230 schools in 25 of the country’s provinces.

The Iranian government assumes the attacks are targeted, as almost exclusively girls’ schools are affected. But who is behind the attacks, and with what motivation, remains guesswork for now.

Amin, a thirty-something from Tehran who wishes to testify anonymously for security reasons, previously called the situation maddening. ‘We are constantly stressed,‘ he said. ‘We all know someone who teaches or attends classes. We don’t know with what force these monstrous attacks are coming at the schools. But one thing is certain: something is happening and it is affecting hundreds of girls.

Investigation report

The attacks would always start with an unpleasant smell. “It was as if someone had been squirting with bug spray,” one student from the city of Mashad recounted in a video on Twitter. Others testify about the smell of rotten tangerines or bleach. Some doctors link the victims’ symptoms to light pesticides based on organophosphate, a nerve agent that can be deadly in certain doses. Explanations are also sought in part from “mass hysteria” or collective panic.

A commission of inquiry to find out what was going on was expected to come up with a final report in the coming weeks. Beforehand, there was a lot of skepticism about how deep that investigation would dig.