Four Saudi children have died and 28 others have been hospitalized due to a poisoning in an Iranian hotel. Three of the dead were only three years old and the fourth was a 14-year-old girl.
The poisoning incident is being linked to exposure to rat poison, according to reports. Officials from Iran’s Food and Drug Organization are saying that this specific kind of rat poison had previously been banned due to concerns about its safety for humans.
The official Iranian state news agency IRNA is reporting that the mass poisoning was accidental. Officials say that they have closed the hotel, and arrested the staff, and are currently investigating the incident.
“An investigation has been launched into the management and staff of the hotel, and five people are under arrest,” Iranian spokesman Gholamhossein Mohseni-Ejei told the press.
According to the Saudi Gazette, the Saudi embassy in Tehran has opened a hotline with the hospital where most of the victims are in intensive care. They are also in contact with Iranian authorities and are working together to find more details about this mass poisoning.
“In the initial investigation, no evidence showing the incident was a deliberate act was found,” an Iranian prosecutor told Press TV, an arm of Iranian state media.
The group was on vacation, visiting the northeastern Iranian city of Mashhad, which is the site of an important shrine for Shiite Muslims. About two million foreigners per year visit the shrine dedicated to Imam Reza, an important figure in the history of the Twelvers, a sub-branch of Shia Islam. The mosque in Mashhad is one of the largest in the world.
Shia Muslims, like the victims of this poisoning, are a minority in Saudi Arabia, and have tense relations with the governing Sunni government. Some accuse the Shia of being more loyal to Iran than to Saudi Arabia.
Disagreements between the Islamic Republic and the Saudi Kingdom have been mounting in recent years, with each nation accusing the other of causing the political instability the Middle East is currently suffering.
Saudi Arabia is a majority-Sunni country, whereas Shia Muslims rule Iran; many of the conflicts between the two can be traced back to the stark theological dispute between each nation’s ruling regimes.