Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi And Foreign Minister Amir-Abdollahian Confirmed Dead In Sunday Helicopter Crash

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Ultraconservative Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi was killed Sunday, along with his foreign minister, in a helicopter crash in Iran’s remote northwest, injecting fresh uncertainty as the country’s hardline clerical establishment navigates rising regional tensions and domestic discontent.

The loss of two of Iran’s most influential political figures comes as the country buckles under significant economic and political strain, with tensions with nearby Israel at a dangerous high.

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Drone footage of the helicopter wreckage taken by the Red Crescent and carried on Iranian state media showed the crash site on a steep, wooded hillside, with little remaining of the helicopter beyond a blue and white tail.

Sunday’s crash occurred as Raisi, 63, and Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian were returning from a ceremony for an opening of a dam on Iran’s border with Azerbaijan, state media reported.

Among those onboard were three crew members, the governor of Eastern Azerbaijan province, an imam, Raisi’s head of security chief and a bodyguard, according to IRGC-run media outlet Sepah.

The crash prompted an hours-long search-and-rescue operation with assistance from the European Union and Turkey among others, but emergency crews were hampered by the thick fog and plummeting temperatures.

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The death of Raisi comes at a sensitive time domestically for Tehran and seven months into Israel’s war against Hamas in Gaza that has sent tensions soaring throughout the Middle East — and brought a decades long shadow war between Israel and Iran out into the open.

Last month, Iran launched an unprecedented drone and missile attack on Israel — its first ever direct attack on the country — in response to a deadly apparent Israeli airstrike on Iran’s consulate in Damascus.

Under Raisi, Iran’s hardline leadership has faced significant challenges in recent years, convulsed by youth-led demonstrations against clerical rule and grim economic conditions. Iranian authorities have launched a widening crackdown on dissent since nationwide protests broke out over the 2022 death of a young woman in the custody of the country’s notorious morality police.

Following the official announcement of Raisi’s death Monday, Iran’s government convened an “urgent meeting” as the clerical establishment, headed by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, prepare to appoint a new president they can throw their support behind.

Next in the line of presidential succession is Vice President Mohammad Mokhber, who must be approved by Khamenei, the final arbiter of domestic and foreign affairs in the Islamic Republic.

The Iranian constitution also mandates that the three heads of the branches of government, including the Vice President, speaker of the parliament, and head of the judiciary, must arrange for an election and elect a new leader within 50 days of assuming the role of acting President.

In a statement Monday, the president’s cabinet praised Raisi as a “hard-working and tireless” president who served the people of Iran to help advance and progress the country. “[He] stood by his promise and sacrificed his life for the nation,” the statement said.

The cabinet also reaffirmed that there “will not be the slightest disturbance” in the administration of Iran in the wake of the deadly crash.

On Monday, Iranian state broadcasters took to airing Islamic prayers in between news broadcasts, while a photo shared by IRNA showed that the chair that Raisi usually sits in was vacant and draped with a black sash in memory of the president.

Photo Credit: Getty

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