Iran declares President Ebrahim Raisí dead in helicopter crash | International

Iran's President Ebrahim Raisí and his Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian were killed in a helicopter crash in a mountainous and difficult-to-access area near Varzeqan, in the northwest of the country, an Iranian government spokesperson confirmed to the news agency on Monday. Reuters. The news broke around 7:30 am, local time State television confirmed there were “no signs of life” in the plane's wreckage. accident in which other prominent leaders of the Islamic Republic were also traveling. The causes of the aircraft accident are currently unknown. Two other helicopters traveled in the delegation with members of the Iranian government who encountered no problems and reached their destination.

Iran's Mehr news agency later confirmed the deaths of “all passengers of the helicopter in which the president and the foreign minister were traveling.” After hours of difficult search operations complicated by the weather conditions of rain and fog and the wooded terrain, the Red Crescent reported the discovery of the remains of the crashed helicopter early on Monday. Making the announcement to Iranian state media, the head of that organization, Pir Hossein Kolivand, said they were on their way to the accident site and assured that the situation was not good. Later, a member of the Iranian government told Reuters that the helicopter was “completely burned.”

Born in Mashhad, about 850 kilometers east of Tehran, 63 years ago, married with two children, the name Raisí even sounded like a possible successor to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. Since he was elected president in 2021, when he succeeded the moderate Hasan Rohaní with 62% of the votesordered the ultra-conservative leader to tighten moral codes and took strong action against protesters who wanted to see a change of course in the country, to whom he responded with a heavy hand.

According to the Iranian political system, based on the concept of velayat-e-faqih (the government of clerics), the most prominent figure in the hierarchy is the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The president, Raisí, follows him. In the event of his death, the constitution stipulates that the vice president, in this case Mohammad Mojber, will take his place, with the approval of the supreme leader. The country would then have to hold elections within fifty days to elect a new president.

An image captured by a drone shows the remains of the helicopter at the crash site.Reuters

The helicopter in which Raisi was traveling was returning from East Azerbaijan province in northwestern Iran, where he had taken part in the inauguration of two dams on Sunday morning with his Azerbaijani counterpart Ilham Aliyev. At the time of the accident, the plane was en route to the city of Tabriz, about 70 kilometers from where it disappeared. There Raisí planned to visit the improvement works of a refinery.

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Also traveling with the Iranian president were the Foreign Minister, the governor of East Azerbaijan, Malek Rahmati, and Ayatollah Mohammad Ali Ale-Hashem, representative of the Iranian supreme leader in this province, according to the state news agency Irna. The released images and videos revealed that the helicopter was an American-made Bell 212, a medium-sized vehicle with capacity for one pilot and fourteen passengers. It is unclear how many people accompanied the president in total, including crew and possible security personnel.

The damaged plane was one of three that formed a presidential delegation. The other two were traveling with the Ministers of Energy, Ali Akbar Mehrabian, and of Housing and Transport, Mehrdad Bazrpash, who arrived safely at their destinations.

When the incident became known, a search and rescue operation was launched with the deployment of up to 40 mountain rescue teams, drones, dogs, armed forces personnel and the Iranian Red Crescent. Chief of the General Staff Mohammad Bagheri ordered the use of all army and Revolutionary Guard resources and later added more troops sent by Turkey and Iraq. At Iran's request, the European Union activated the Copernicus mapping system, designed to respond to emergency situations, to help locate the helicopter.

As the hours passed with no news from the president, the supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, called for calm and assured that there would be no interruptions in the country's functions. “We hope that Almighty God will return the respected and esteemed President and his entourage to the arms of the nation,” he wrote on his X report. Throughout the afternoon and evening of Sunday, thousands of people took to the streets of Iran to pray as president. State television broadcast images of worshipers praying in Mashhad, Raisi's hometown.

Iran has been a major player in the tension that has emerged in the Middle East since October 7, the day the Islamist militia Hamas launched an unprecedented attack on Israel, killing more than 1,200 people, and destroying the government by Benjamin Netanyahu responded with a war on Gaza that continues today and has caused more than 35,000 deaths, according to Gaza health authorities' calculations. “Our hearts go out to the Iranian people, friend and brother. We ask God for mercy and care for the president, the foreign minister and their companions,” said Hamas spokesman Izzat Al Risheq.

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