Four individuals have been arrested in connection with a number of gruesome acid attacks on women that shocked and terrified the residents of Esfahan. According to initial reports from Morteza Mirbagheri, the deputy interior minister for Social and Cultural Affairs, “three to four suspects” were arrested. It is unclear why Mirbagheri did not provide the exact number of the suspects. Attempting to calm residents, Mirbagheri said, “Now there is no reason for concern over safety in Esfahan province.”
The first incident was reported Oct. 16. Men on motorcycles allegedly attacked women in their cars. Rumors immediately began to circulate that religious vigilante groups were targeting women with improper hijab. But as the acid attacks, which left the faces of their victims disfigured, increased, some Iranian media outlets reported that some of the victims were from religious families and were not improperly covered.
Iranian Students’ News Agency (ISNA) has provided some of the best coverage, reporting, “This is not the first acid attack on our society, nor will it be the last,” blaming a “failure to decisively confront” criminals who engage in these types of crimes.
ISNA reported that unlike Iran's previous well known cases of acid attacks, which were motivated by personal reasons such as jilted lovers or family disputes, these ones by individuals on motorcycles were random.
The article, which was written before the arrests were announced, asked the police to act more quickly to apprehend the suspects. It also requested that lawmakers and the judiciary adopt policies that would prevent future such crimes, given that people who have engaged in this type of violence are under the assumption that the law will not punish them heavily.
In a subtle taunt, ISNA challenged the authorities to confront the crimes with the same intensity that they collect satellite dishes and confront inadequately veiled women.
The article included comments from women in Esfahan. One said that she always drives with her windows up but prefers to stay home. Another now fears the sound of motorcycles approaching.
An anonymous journalist wrote in and praised ISNA for having the courage to cover the issue so extensively but criticized its reporting that some of the victims were from religious families and properly covered, which indirectly suggests that it should not be surprising for someone not from a religious family and poorly veiled to be attacked in this way.
A number of Iranian officials condemned the violence. Judicial spokesman Gholam-Ali Moheseni-Ejei said that while Islamic retribution laws, or “ghesas,” can be applied in such cases, he called for more severe punishment to act as a “deterrent.” He asked judiciary officials in Esfahan to look into the matter.
Mohseni-Ejei also said that the motive for the crimes has not been confirmed. Esfahan police commander Abdulreza Aghajani also rejected claims that the attacks were related to poor veiling and attributed them to “anti-social” individuals.
Esfahan's Friday prayer leader Ayatollah Seyed Youseff Tabatabie-Nejad called the attacks “un-Islamic,” saying that the Islamic command “enjoining good and forbidding wrong” forbids such harming of individuals. He also rejected the idea that the groups who have threatened to take to the streets and monitor women's veiling were behind them.