Raisi, 7 others die in copter crash

Iran in mourning; Mokhber new head of the executive; funeral tomorrow

Reuters May 20, 2024
Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi. PHOTO: AFP/File


Iran plunged into mourning after the death of President Ebrahim Raisi and seven others, including Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian, in a helicopter crash in the country’s northwest was confirmed by the state media on Monday morning.

Besides Raisi and Amirabdollahian, the state media said, East Azarbaijan provincial Governor Malek Rahmati, head of Raisi’s bodyguard team Mehdi Mousavi, and Iranian Supreme Leader’s representative in the province Mohammad Ali Al-e-Hashem, also died in the crash.

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who declared five-day mourning, appointed Vice-President Mohammad Mokhber as the new head of the executive. Mokhber later chaired an emergency cabinet meeting and the state media said that elections for new president had been called on June 28.

Raisi was en route to Tabriz City on Sunday after inaugurating Qiz Qalasi Dam at the border with the Azerbaijan Republic, when his helicopter went missing in Varzaqan region of East Azarbaijan Province amid foggy weather, triggering a massive search operation that continued throughout the night.

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. PHOTO: Reuters

The wreckage of the helicopter was ultimately detected by Iranian drones in the wee hours of Monday, although a Turkish drone was also involved in the search operation, Tasnim news agency reported. Iranian Red Crescent Society (IRCS) said that the bodies were retrieved and shifted to Tabriz.

According to state-run Irna news agency, Ayatollah Khamenei had declared five days of public mourning, “following the martyrdom” of Raisi, the country’s eighth president, and his entourage. In a message, Khamenei expressed his “great sadness” over the death of Raisi and other officials.

“In this bitter tragedy, the Iranian nation lost a warm-hearted, humble and valued servant,” said Khamenei, adding that President Raisi never stopped his hard and round-the-clock work for the people of Iran despite being faced with criticisms of ill-wishers.

The tragic accident happened as the president and his entourage were returning from Khoda Afarin region in Iran’s north-western East Azarbaijan province. The president’s convoy included three helicopters, two of which had landed safely in the poor weather conditions.

An ambulance and other vehicles drive on a foggy road following a crash of a helicopter carrying Iran's President Ebrahim Raisi, in Varzaqan , East Azerbaijan Province, Iran. PHOTO: Reuters

In the emergency cabinet meeting, Mokhber said that Iran’s system was well-established and strong, and there would not be even the smallest problem in administration of the country. He also assigned the foreign relations affairs to Amirabdollahian’s deputy for political affairs Ali Baqeri Kani.

The cabinet decided to set up a committee, headed by Raisi’s deputy for executive affairs Mohsen Mansouri, tasked with holding funeral processions for the late president, according to Irna. The funeral for Raisi was slated for Wednesday (tomorrow) in the capital Tehran.

The funerals of the other deceased -- the three crew, two bodyguards, an imam and a provincial governor – were set for Tuesday (today) in Tabriz, East Azerbaijan province, before Raisi’s body was to be taken to Tehran.

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and Azerbaijan's President Ilham Aliyev visit the Qiz-Qalasi dam on the Azerbaijan-Iran border, May 19, 2024. PHOTO: Reuters

Iran’s military chief of staff Mohammad Bagheri ordered “a high-ranking committee to launch an investigation into the cause of the president’s [Bell 212] helicopter crash”. The state TV reported that the aircraft had “hit a mountain and disintegrated” on impact.

Thousands of mourners had massed in Tehran’s Valiasr Square to pay their respects to the late president and his entourage. Elsewhere, flags flew at half-mast and a black banner was hoisted at a major shrine in the city of Qom, south of Tehran.

Ebrahim Raisi, 63, was born in the holy city of Mashhad. He was elected president in 2021. Before that, he served as the judiciary chief, the general prosecutor and the vice-chairman of the Assembly of Experts. Raisi was also a member of the Expediency Council.

As president he succeeded Hassan Rouhani at a turbulent time during which the economy was battered by US sanctions over Iran’s nuclear programme. His term in office also saw mass protests in 2022, a surprise deal with Saudi Arabia in March 2023 and armed exchanges with Israel a few weeks ago.

In September 2023, on the occasion of Government Week in Iran, Supreme Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei praised the Raisi administration’s performance in various sectors including economy and foreign policy.



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