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21 June, 2024
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Iran president and foreign minister die in helicopter crash

Ebrahim Raisi and Hossein Amir-Abdollahian killed near Azerbaijan border

Source: The Guardian

Iranian president Ebrahim Raisi has died in a helicopter crash in foggy weather in the mountains near the border with Azerbaijan, Iranian state media has reported. Foreign minister Hossein Amir-abdollahian was among those killed.

With Raisi and Amir-abdollahian in Sunday’s fatal crash were the governor of Iran’s East Azerbaijan province and other officials and bodyguards, the state-run IRNA news agency reported early on Monday.

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

Reuters quoted an unnamed Iranian official as saying the men were killed when the helicopter crashed in mountainous terrain and icy weather.

Earlier on Monday, rescue teams located the wreckage of the helicopter on heavily forested terrain but detected no signs of life, state TV reported Pir Hossein Kolivand, the head of Iran’s Red Crescent, as saying.

Fears had been growing for the 63-year-old ultraconservative after contact was lost with the aircraft on Sunday as it navigated fog-covered mountains in north-west Iran.

Footage later emerged online of drone operators searching the forested slopes, and Iranian media including Fars news agency shared drone images of what appeared to be wreckage.

“The helicopter has been found. Now, we are moving toward the helicopter,” said Koolivand. “We are seeing the helicopter. The situation is not good.”

In the early hours of Monday, a Turkish drone located a “source of heat suspected to be wreckage of helicopter carrying Iranian President Raisi”, Turkey’s state-run news agency Anadolu reported, prompting Iranian rescue teams to head to the site.

Earlier, the country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei – who holds ultimate power in the Islamic Republic – sought to reassure the nation. Iranians should not worry or be anxious, he said, adding: “No disruption will occur in Iran’s state affairs.”

Iranian state media blamed bad weather for the crash and said it was complicating rescue efforts. Raisi’s convoy had included three helicopters, and the other two had “reached their destination safely”, said the Tasnim news agency.

The incident happened near Jolfa, a city on the border with Azerbaijan, about 375 miles (600km) north-west of the Iranian capital, Tehran. The president had been travelling in Iran’s East Azerbaijan province.

The state-run IRNA news agency broadcast footage of an Iranian Red Crescent team walking up a slope in thick fog, as well as live footage of crowds of worshippers reciting prayers in the holy shrine of Imam Reza in the city Mashhad, Raisi’s home town.

More than 70 rescue teams using search dogs and drones were sent to the site, the Red Crescent said, and the chief of staff of Iran’s army ordered all the resources of the army and the elite Revolutionary Guards to be deployed.

Raisi had been in Azerbaijan early on Sunday to inaugurate a dam with the country’s president, Ilham Aliyev. The dam is the third that the two nations have built on the Aras River. The visit came despite chilly relations between the two nations, including over a gun attack on Azerbaijan’s embassy in Tehran in 2023, and Azerbaijan’s diplomatic relations with Israel, which Iran’s Shia theocracy views as its main enemy in the region.

Iran owns a number of helicopters, but international sanctions make it difficult to obtain parts for them. Most of its military air fleet pre-dates the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Countries in the region sent their well-wishes and offers of support, including Iraq and Qatar, but also Saudi Arabia, which has long been a regional foe. The Saudi foreign ministry was following reports about the crash with “great concern”, the country’s state news agency reported.

US President Joe Biden has been briefed on the crash, an American official said on condition of anonymity.

The Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, said he was saddened to hear of the accident. “I convey my best wishes to our neighbour, friend and brother Iranian people and government, and I hope to receive good news from Mr Raisi and his delegation as soon as possible,” Erdogan said earlier in a post on social media platform X.

The EU offered emergency satellite mapping technology to help Iran with the search while a spokesperson for state department of the US, a global adversary of Iran, said: “We are closely following reports of a possible hard landing of a helicopter in Iran carrying the Iranian president and foreign minister.”

Raisi, 63, is a hardliner who formerly led the country’s judiciary. He is viewed as a protege of Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and some analysts have suggested that he could replace the 85-year-old leader.

He won Iran’s 2021 presidential election, for which the turnout was the lowest in the Islamic Republic’s history. Raisi is under sanctions by the US in part over his involvement in the mass execution of thousands of political prisoners in 1988 at the end of the bloody Iran-Iraq war.

Under Raisi, Iran now enriches uranium at nearly weapons-grade levels and hampers international inspections. Iran has supplied arms to Russia in its war on Ukraine, and launched a substantial drone and missile attack on Israel. It continues to arm proxy groups in the Middle East, such as Yemen’s Houthi rebels and Lebanon’s Hezbollah.

Iran’s vice-president Mohammad Mokhber would take over presidential duties in the event of Raisi’s death being confirmed, according to Iran’s constitution. Iran’s cabinet held an emergency meeting led by Mokhber after the incident, the IRNA news agency reported.

Presidential elections should be arranged within 50 days, the constitution says.

[Source: The Guardian]

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