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Ebrahim Raisi

Iran’s hardliner President Ebrahim Raisi killed in helicopter crash

Iran’s hardliner President Ebrahim Raisi killed in helicopter crash
epa11354972 Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi attends a meeting with Azerbaijan's President Aliyev during an inauguration ceremony of the joint Iran-Azerbaijan-constructed Qiz-Qalasi dam on the Aras River, at the Iran-Azerbaijan border in north-western Iran, 19 May 2024. President Raisi, Foreign Minister Amir-Abdollahian and several others were killed in a helicopter crash on 19 May 2024, after an official visit in Iran's northwest near the border with Azerbaijan, the Iranian government confirmed. Iran announced a five-day public mourning for Raisi's death. EPA-EFE/STRINGER

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, a hardliner seen as a potential successor to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, was killed after his helicopter crashed in poor weather in mountains near the Azerbaijan border, officials and state media said on Monday.

The charred wreckage of the helicopter which crashed on Sunday carrying Raisi, Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian and six other passengers and crew was found early on Monday after an overnight search in blizzard conditions.

Supreme Leader Khamenei, who holds ultimate power with a final say on foreign policy and Iran’s nuclear programme, said First Vice President Mohammad Mokhber, would take over as interim president, the official IRNA news agency reported.

“I announce five days of public mourning and offer my condolences to the dear people of Iran,” Khamenei said in a statement. Mokhber, like Raisi, is seen as close to Khamenei.

Under the Islamic Republic’s constitution, a new presidential election must be held within 50 days.

Footage from Iranian state television showed wreckage scattered on a foggy hillside, while separate images from IRNA showed Red Crescent workers carrying a covered body on a stretcher. All those aboard the helicopter were killed, a senior Iranian official had earlier told Reuters.

Deputy Foreign Minister Ali Bagheri Kani was appointed as acting foreign minister following the death of Amirabdollahian, IRNA said.

The crash comes at a time of growing dissent within Iran over an array of political, social and economic crises. Iran’s clerical rulers face international pressure over Tehran’s disputed nuclear programme and its deepening military ties with Russia during the war in Ukraine.

Since Iran’s ally Hamas attacked Israel on Oct. 7, provoking Israel’s assault on Gaza, conflagrations involving Iran-aligned groups have erupted throughout the Middle East.

A long “shadow war” between Iran and Israel broke into the open last month with tit-for-tat exchanges of drone and missile fire.

State media reported that images from the site showed the U.S.-made Bell 212 helicopter slammed into a mountain peak, although there was no official word on the cause of the crash. The dead also included the governor of East Azerbaijan Province and a senior imam from Tabriz city.

An Israeli official told Reuters it was not involved in the crash. “It wasn’t us,” said the official, who requested anonymity.

 

MESSAGES OF CONDOLENCE

The helicopter went down in Varzeqan region north of Tabriz, state news agency IRNA reported, as Raisi returned from an official visit to the border with Azerbaijan in Iran’s northwest.

Raisi, 63, was elected president in 2021, and since taking office has ordered a tightening of morality laws, overseen a bloody crackdown on anti-government protests and pushed hard in nuclear talks with world powers.

Messages of condolences poured in from Iran’s regional neighbours and allies, including the leaders of Saudi Arabia, Syria, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Jordan, Iraq and Pakistan.

Russian President Vladimir Putin called Raisi “a true friend of Russia”, while Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said he was “deeply shocked and saddened”.

There was less reaction from Western capitals, though the European Union and Japan expressed condolences.

Iran-backed militant group Hamas, fighting Israeli forces in Gaza with Tehran’s support, issued a statement expressing sympathy to the Iranian people for “this immense loss.”

Lebanon’s Iran-backed Hezbollah group and the Houthi rebels in Yemen also issued statements praising Raisi and mourning his death.

Meanwhile, the exiled opposition group, the National Council of Resistance of Iran, described his death in a statement as a “monumental and irreparable strategic blow” to the Islamic Republic.

Rescue teams fought rain, blizzards and difficult terrain through the night to reach the wreckage in the early hours of Monday.

“With the discovery of the crash site, no signs of life have been detected among the helicopter’s passengers,” the head of Iran’s Red Crescent, Pirhossein Kolivand, told state TV.

Earlier, the national broadcaster had stopped all regular programming to show prayers being held for Raisi across the country.

Video showed a rescue team, wearing bright jackets and head torches, huddled around a GPS device as they searched a pitch-black mountainside on foot.

 

HARDLINER, POSSIBLE SUCCESSOR TO KHAMENEI

In Iran’s dual political system, split between the clerical establishment and the government, it is Raisi’s 85-year-old mentor Khamenei, supreme leader since 1989, who holds decision-making power on all major policies.

For years, many have seen Raisi as a strong contender to succeed Khamenei, who has endorsed Raisi’s main policies. Raisi’s victory in a closely managed election in 2021 brought all branches of power under the control of hardliners, after eight years when the presidency had been held by pragmatist Hassan Rouhani and a nuclear deal negotiated with powers including Washington.

However, Raisi’s standing may have been dented by widespread protests against clerical rule following the death of 22-year-old Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini in morality police custody, and a failure to turn around Iran’s economy, hamstrung by Western sanctions.

Raisi had been at the Azerbaijani border on Sunday to inaugurate the Qiz-Qalasi Dam, a joint project. Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev, who said he had bid a “friendly farewell” to Raisi earlier in the day, had offered assistance in the rescue.

(Reporting by Parisa Hafezi in Dubai and Yomma Ehab in Cairo; Writing by Stephen Coates and Alex Richardson; Editing by Lincoln Feast and Sharon Singleton)

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Alexis Kriel says:

    There will be many liberal Irani’s who will be pleased that this hardliner is gone.

  • Rod H MacLeod says:

    Did Putin send his condolences before the helicopter left the Azerbaijan border?

  • Beyond Fedup says:

    A monstrous and evil mullah with so much blood on his hands, hiding behind religion and abusing God’s image to justify his tyranny, male chauvinism and barbarity. Good riddance to bad rubbish and hope he burns in hell forever. Such a pity that that other evil monster Putin wasn’t on that helicopter – the world would have got rid of two of the most vile murderers.

  • Gavin Knox says:

    Cyril and his caders must seriously be wondering if the new incumbent mulla will be as generous with his country’s money as this past one was….

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