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Sunday, June 23, 2024  
16 Dhul-Hijjah 1445  

Iranian president killed in helicopter crash

Images show helicopter crashed into mountain peak, state TV reports
Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi attends a meeting with Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev on the Azerbaijan-Iran border, May 19, 2024. Reuters
Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi attends a meeting with Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev on the Azerbaijan-Iran border, May 19, 2024. Reuters
A helicopter carrying Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi takes off, near the Iran-Azerbaijan border, May 19, 2024. The helicopter with Raisi on board later crashed. Reuters
A helicopter carrying Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi takes off, near the Iran-Azerbaijan border, May 19, 2024. The helicopter with Raisi on board later crashed. Reuters
People follow the news of a crash of a helicopter carrying Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi, on a TV in a shop in Tehran, Iran, May 19, 2024. Reuters
People follow the news of a crash of a helicopter carrying Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi, on a TV in a shop in Tehran, Iran, May 19, 2024. Reuters

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and his foreign minister were killed in a helicopter crash in mountainous terrain and icy weather, an Iranian official said on Monday, after search teams located the wreckage in East Azerbaijan province.

“President Raisi, the foreign minister and all the passengers in the helicopter were killed in the crash,” the senior Iranian official told Reuters, asking not to be named because of the sensitivity of the matter.

Iran’s Mehr news agency confirmed the deaths, reporting that “all passengers of the helicopter carrying the Iranian president and foreign minister were martyred”.

An Iranian official earlier told Reuters the helicopter carrying Raisi and Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian was completely burned in the crash on Sunday.

No trace of survivors at site of Iranian president’s copter crash: IRSC chief

No survivors have been found at the site where the helicopter of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi crashed in northwest Iran, the Iranian Red Crescent Society’s (IRCS) head said on Monday.

“No trace of survivors has been seen after the discovery of the site of the crashed helicopter,” said Pir-Hossein Kolivand in an interview with the semi-official Tasnim news agency.

Kolivand revealed earlier in the day that the site of the crash involving President Raisi and senior officials accompanying him had been found after hours of extensive search in a mountainous region in the province of East Azerbaijan.

President Raisi’s helicopter crashed afternoon on Sunday in Varzaqan region as he was returning with Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian and several others from a ceremony to inaugurate a dam on Iran’s border with the Republic of Azerbaijan.

Hopes dim

Hopes are fading that Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and his foreign minister have survived a helicopter crash in mountainous terrain and icy weather, an Iranian official said on Monday after search teams located the wreckage.

“President Raisi’s helicopter was completely burned in the crash … unfortunately, all passengers are feared dead,” the official told Reuters.

Rescue teams fought blizzards and difficult terrain through the night to reach the wreckage in East Azerbaijan province in the early hours of Monday.

“We can see the wreckage and the situation does not look good,” the head of Iran’s Red Crescent, Pirhossein Kolivand, told state TV.

“With the discovery of the crash site, no signs of life have been detected among the helicopter’s passengers.”

Iranian state media said images from the site showed the helicopter crashed into a mountain peak, although there was no official word yet on the cause of the crash.

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.

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who holds ultimate power with a final say on foreign policy and Iran’s nuclear programme, had earlier sought to reassure Iranians, saying there would be no disruption to state affairs.

Prayers, searches

A Turkish drone identified a source of heat suspected to be the helicopter’s wreckage early on Monday and had shared the coordinates of the possible crash site with Iranian authorities, Anadolu news agency said on X.

State news agency IRNA said Raisi was flying in a US-made Bell 212 helicopter.

The chief of staff of Iran’s army ordered all resources of the army and the elite Revolutionary Guards to be put to use in search and rescue operations.

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

 People pray for the well-being of Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi following the crash of a helicopter carrying him, in Tehran, Iran May 19, 2024. Reuters
People pray for the well-being of Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi following the crash of a helicopter carrying him, in Tehran, Iran May 19, 2024. Reuters

In the early hours of Monday, it showed a rescue team, wearing bright jackets and head torches, huddled around a GPS device as they searched a pitch-black mountainside on foot in a blizzard.

“We are thoroughly searching every inch of the general area of the crash,” state media quoted a regional army commander as saying. “The area has very cold, rainy, and foggy weather conditions. The rain is gradually turning into snow.”

Several countries expressed concern and offered assistance in any rescue.

The White House said US President Joe Biden had been briefed on reports about the crash. China said it was deeply concerned. The European Union offered emergency satellite mapping technology.

Hardliner, possible successor to Khamenei

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.

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.

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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 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, offered assistance in the rescue.

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