Iran declares President Ebrahim Raisí dead after the helicopter he was traveling in crashes

Iran's President Ebrahim Raisí and his Foreign Minister Hosein Amir Abdolahian have died in a helicopter crash in a mountainous area in the northwest of the countryas reported this Monday by state television and the official IRNA agency.

“Ayatollah Raisi and his companions died in the helicopter crash,” Iranian state TV reported. “Ayatollah Raisi, the beloved president of our country, died in a helicopter crash in the Varzeqan region of East Azerbaijan and joined the Supreme Kingdom,” IRNA confirmed.

The Red Crescent had reported hours earlier that the helicopter in which the president and the foreign minister were traveling along with the governor of East Azerbaijan, Malik Rahmati, and the leader of Friday prayers from the city of Tabriz, Mohammad-Ali Al-Hashem , as well as an unknown number of crew members.

The IRNA agency has reported that “an urgent cabinet meeting” has been convened. The meeting will be chaired by Iranian Vice President Mohammad Mojber, who should assume the presidency under the country's constitution.

The helicopter in which Raisí was traveling disappeared on Sunday as it returned from the city of Tabriz together with two other aircraft – which reached their destination without any problems. Official Iranian media reported that he had suffered a 'forced landing', without explaining the causes.

After the loss of contact, a major operation was launched with at least 65 rescue teams, but operations were hit by bad weather, rain and dense fog in the mountainous area where the incident took place, the Red Crescent said.

Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei called for calm on Sunday in light of Raisi's unknown whereabouts. The supreme leader assured that he would not make “interruptions in the functions of the country.” Raisí was in fact one of the favorites to succeed Khamenei, 85 years old.

Meanwhile, hundreds of people gathered in the cities of Mashad, Qom and Tehran to pray for the ultra-conservative president's well-being, according to images broadcast on state television.

Raisí, together with his Azerbaijani colleague Ilham Alíev, inaugurated a dam on the border between the two countries this Sunday. It was a project described by leaders as a step forward in bilateral ties after years of tensions.

Repression against activists, women and critics

The ultra-conservative president came to power in 2021 after winning the presidential election with the lowest participation in the history of the Islamic Republic, marked by the veto of presidential candidates, which paved the way for him.

While he tried to soften his ultra-conservative image during the election campaign, there were few doubts about his character after the start of his term. During his government, repression against activists, women and critics of the regime has intensified. Raisí reinforced the policy of compulsory use of the Islamic veil, which had been relaxed in recent years and resulted in the death of Mahsa Amini in September 2022 after being arrested for not wearing the headscarf correctly. The 22-year-old's death sparked the largest protests in years against the Islamic Republic, which only subsided after a police crackdown that left 500 people dead and eight people hanged, including one in public.

The repression against artists, filmmakers, athletes and women critical of the Islamic Republic has continued until now, as have the recent arrests of women for not wearing a veil or the death sentences against rappers like Tomaj Salehi for supporting the protests.

This was also the case under his mandate Iran's first direct attack on Israel, when the Persian country launched hundreds of missiles and drones against its regional opponent on April 13, in a spectacular attack that did not cause any damage. That attack was in response to the killing of seven Revolutionary Guard members in the Iranian consulate in Damascus, for which Tehran blamed Tel Aviv.

Before becoming president in 2021, Raisí went through almost all the ranks of the Iranian judiciary: he was a member of the judiciary (2019-2021), vice president of the Assembly of Experts, first vice president of the judiciary (2004 -2014) and Prosecutor General of Iran (2014-2016).

Raisí entered the world of the judiciary in the 1980s in the city of Karaj and made the leap to the capital in 1985 when he was appointed deputy prosecutor of Tehran.

One of the darkest points of his career dates from that time. He was part of the committee that oversaw the executions of political prisoners in 1988, which left thousands of opponents dead. Her role in those executions earned her the nickname 'hanging judge'.

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