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Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi Dies in Helicopter Crash Near Azerbaijan Border

DUBAI, May 20Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, a hardliner viewed as a potential successor to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, died in a helicopter crash amid poor weather conditions in the mountains near the Azerbaijan border, officials and state media reported on Monday.

The helicopter, which crashed on Sunday carrying Raisi, Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian, and six other passengers and crew, was found charred in blizzard conditions early Monday after an overnight search. The crash has plunged Iran into a period of mourning and political uncertainty.

Supreme Leader Khamenei announced that First Vice President Mohammad Mokhber would serve as interim president, according to the official IRNA news agency. “I announce five days of public mourning and offer my condolences to the dear people of Iran,” Khamenei stated. Mokhber, much like Raisi, is considered close to Khamenei.

The crash occurs during a period of increasing dissent within Iran due to various political, social, and economic crises. Iran faces significant international pressure over its contentious nuclear program and its growing military ties with Russia amid the ongoing war in Ukraine. Additionally, tensions have heightened throughout the Middle East following Hamas’s attack on Israel on October 7, leading to intensified conflicts involving Iran-aligned groups.

An Israeli official, who requested anonymity, told Reuters that Israel was not involved in the crash. U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin also stated that the United States had no part in the incident and had no insight into its cause.

The U.S. State Department expressed condolences and reaffirmed support for the Iranian people in their pursuit of human rights and fundamental freedoms. “As Iran selects a new president, we reaffirm our support for the Iranian people and their struggle for human rights and fundamental freedoms,” State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said.

Public Reaction and Political Implications

Government loyalists gathered in mosques and squares to pray for Raisi, while most daily activities continued with little interruption. Reactions among Iranians were mixed. Mohammad Hossein Zarrabi, a member of the volunteer Basij religious militia in Qom, praised Raisi’s dedication, saying, “He was a hardworking president. His legacy will endure as long as we are alive.” Conversely, a shopkeeper in Yazd expressed indifference, highlighting the persistent hardships faced by ordinary citizens: “Who cares. One hardliner dies, another takes over, and our misery continues.”

Details of the Crash

State media reported that the helicopter, a U.S.-made Bell 212, crashed into a mountain peak in the Varzeqan region north of Tabriz as Raisi was returning from an official visit to inaugurate the Qiz-Qalasi Dam. The crash also claimed the lives of the governor of East Azerbaijan Province and a senior imam from Tabriz. Decades of sanctions have hindered Iran’s ability to maintain and upgrade its aging aircraft fleet.

Raisi’s Legacy and Future Elections

Since taking office, Raisi, 63, had enforced stricter morality laws, overseen a severe crackdown on anti-government protests, and taken a hardline stance in nuclear negotiations. Despite his election in 2021 bringing all branches of power under hardliner control, widespread protests following the death of Mahsa Amini and economic struggles under Western sanctions had damaged his standing.

Under Iran’s constitution, a new presidential election must occur within 50 days. Candidates must be vetted by the Guardian Council, which often disqualifies even prominent conservative and moderate officials. This process suggests little change in Iran’s overall policy direction.

International Reactions and Condolences

Funeral ceremonies for Raisi will take place from Tuesday to Thursday in Tabriz, Qom, Tehran, and Birjand, with his final burial at the Imam Reza Shrine in Mashhad. Condolences have poured in from regional neighbors and allies, including Syria, Egypt, the UAE, Qatar, Jordan, Iraq, and Pakistan. Russian President Vladimir Putin called Raisi “a true friend of Russia,” emphasizing the continued strengthening of Russian-Iranian relations. The Iran-backed militant group Hamas also expressed sympathy, acknowledging the “immense loss” for the Iranian people.

Did the United States and Israel Kill the Iranian President?

We simply do not know yet. But, he was a hardliner and the United States had sent Iran multiple warnings recently.

 

 

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