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Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi confirmed dead after helicopter crash

Kenneth Niemeyer,Cheryl Teh   

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi confirmed dead after helicopter crash
  • Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi is dead after a helicopter crash in northwestern Iran.
  • Iran's foreign minister and a provincial governor also died in the crash, Iranian media reported.

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi has died after a helicopter crash in northwestern Iran, multiple news agencies have reported, citing Iranian state media.

Iran's interior minister, Ahmad Vahidi, told IRNA, Iran's state-run news agency, that a helicopter carrying Raisi and other senior Iranian officials was forced to make a "hard landing" on Sunday, without providing further details.

Heavy fog and bad weather — and eventually nighttime conditions — prevented rescue personnel from immediately reaching the scene, officials said, which led to several hours of uncertainty about the president's status.

The helicopter crash was caused by "technical failure," according to IRNA.

Iran's former foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, said that US sanctions — which prohibit Iran from purchasing US-built aircraft — could be to blame. The crash involved a US-manufactured Bell 212 helicopter, which stopped being made decades ago in 1998.

There were "no traces" of survivors among those flying with Raisi, Pirhossein Koulivand, the head of Iran's Emergency Medical Services, said on Monday, per IRNA.

Koulivand told state television the search was "extremely difficult" because of darkness, dense fog, and rain, according to Bloomberg.

Iran's foreign minister, the governor of Iran's East Azerbaijan province, and other officials were also on board the helicopter.

The high-level Iranian delegation was returning from a ceremony marking a dam opening near Azerbaijan's border. IRNA reported that two other helicopters carrying ministers and officials who attended the ceremony reached their destinations safely.

Iran's vice president, Mohammad Mokhber, is next in line for the presidency, with Al Jazeera reporting that Mokhber would take over until new elections can be held.

Raisi's body and those of the other passengers who died in the helicopter crash are being transported to the city of Tabriz, where an autopsy will take place, according to Al Jazeera, followed by a first official state funeral on Tuesday morning, with another funeral further south in Qom on Tuesday evening, according to IRNA.

Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, has declared five days of national mourning. Syria and Lebanon have also announced three days of national mourning.

Who was Ebrahim Raisi?

Iran elected Raisi in 2021, after an election that saw the lowest voter turnout in the country's history, the Associated Press reported.

Raisi is considered a "hard-liner" and a "protégé" of Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei — the man who actually wields power in the country.

Some analysts previously suggested that Raisi could have replaced Khamenei after his death or resignation, the AP reported.

Raisi has led Iran through heightened tensions in the region, including the conflict between Israel and Hamas in Gaza. Iran is one of Hamas' primary patron states and has carried on a shadow war with Israel for years.

"Our heart is with the Iranian nation as a friend and brother," Hamas said in a statement on Sunday, according to Iran's state-run news agency.

In April, Iran launched a barrage of missiles toward Israel in an unprecedented direct attack.

Most of those attacks were intercepted and ultimately caused little damage. It was a response to Israel's attack on an Iranian consulate building in Damascus, Syria, on April 1, which killed multiple high-level Iranian commanders.

The United States sanctioned Raisi in 2019 for human-rights violations for his role in the "death commission" that ordered the execution of thousands of political prisoners in the late 1980s.

During that era, Iran subjected thousands of political dissidents to detention facilities across the country, executing many of them after an order from the supreme leader of Iran, the United States Institute of Peace said, citing an Amnesty International report.

Raisi was reported to be one of four members of the commission that subjected many of these prisoners to what the Amnesty International report described as "torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment," USIP said.

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