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Iran's President Ebrahim Raisi killed in helicopter crash

The helicopter came down while crossing mountainous terrain, killing all passengers including Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian
President Ebrahim Raisi, 63, took office in 2021 (AFP)
By MEE correspondent in Tehran

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and his foreign minister were killed in a helicopter crash in mountainous terrain and icy weather, Iran's state television confirmed on Monday, after search teams located the wreckage in East Azerbaijan province.

The head of Iran’s Red Crescent, Pir Hossein Kolivand, earlier told state television that "no sign" of life was detected amongst the passengers of the helicopter that crashed on Sunday afternoon.

"Upon finding the helicopter, there was no sign of the helicopter passengers being alive as of yet," state TV reported.

Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, East Azerbaijan Governor Malek Rahmati and Mohammad Ali Ale-Hashem, the representative of the Iranian supreme leader to the province, were in the same helicopter as Raisi.

An official told Reuters that the helicopter was found completely burned and all passengers were feared dead.

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The bodies of those on board have since been taken to the regional capital Tabriz. At least one funeral is expected to take place there while others will be transferred to Tehran later today, according to Al Jazeera.

First Vice President Mohammad Mokhber, 68, has been confirmed as interim president. According to Reuters, Deputy Foreign Minister Ali Bagheri Kani has been appointed acting foreign minister.

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has declared five days of mourning.

A woman reads a newspaper with a front-page report on the crash of the Iranian president's helicopter outside a kiosk in Tehran on May 20, 2024. Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi was declared dead on May 20 after rescue teams found his crashed helicopter in a fog-shrouded western mountain region, sparking mourning in the Islamic republic. Atta KENARE
A woman reads a newspaper with a front-page report on the crash of the Iranian president's helicopter in Tehran on 20 May (AFP/Atta Kenare)

State TV broadcast images from the crash site on Monday morning showing scattered debris and rescue workers carrying the bodies of passengers on stretchers.

Images of the wreckage were said to indicate that the helicopter had crashed into a mountain peak, although there was no official word yet on the cause of the crash.

Rescue teams faced extreme weather and difficult terrain through the night to reach the wreckage in East Azerbaijan province. The area was covered in thick fog, with temperatures plummeting overnight and the heavy rain turning into snowfall.

Hours after midnight, a Turkish drone identified a source of heat suspected to be the helicopter's wreckage and shared the coordinates with Iranian authorities who dispatched a large rescue team to the site.

Fears had been growing for Raisi, 63, after contact was lost with the aircraft carrying him back from a visit to the Azerbaijani border. Interior Minister Ahmad Vahidi had said the helicopter "made a hard landing" in bad weather.

Interim president

Mokhber has already started receiving calls from officials and foreign governments in Raisi’s absence, according to state media.

A council consisting of the parliamentary speaker, the head of the judiciary and the vice president is now required to arrange the election of a new president within a maximum period of 50 days.

Who is Iran's Ayatollah Ali Khamenei - and why does he matter?
Read More »

The new president will serve a full four-year term, officials confirmed.

Raisi, a principlist and ideological ally of Khamenei, was elected in 2021. He succeeded the moderate Hassan Rouhani, at a time when the economy was battered by US sanctions after former US President Donal Trump pulled out of the international deal over Iran's nuclear programme.

The president was considered a leading candidate to replace Khamenei when the 85-year-old dies.

Raisi's death comes at a time of growing regional tensions inflamed by Israel's war on Gaza that has threatened to spill into a wider conflict. 

Last month, Iran launched an unprecedented attack on Israel after an Israeli strike killed senior Iranian Revolutionary Guard officers in Iran's embassy in Damascus.

The president also oversaw a brutal crackdown on mass protests that followed the death in custody of Iranian-Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini in September 2022 after her arrest for allegedly breaking dress rules.

In March 2023, regional rivals Iran and Saudi Arabia signed a surprise deal that restored diplomatic relations.

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