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Tragedy in Iran As President Ebrahim Raisi and Officials Die in Helicopter Crash

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Afor Kenneth

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, along with the country’s foreign minister and several other officials, died on Monday following a helicopter crash in a foggy, mountainous region of northwest Iran, according to state media.

The crash occurred amidst ongoing tensions in the Middle East, exacerbated by the recent Israel-Hamas conflict. During his tenure, the 63-year-old Raisi, under Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, launched a significant drone-and-missile attack on Israel just last month.

Khamenei announced on Monday that Mohammad Mokhber, Iran’s first vice president, would serve as the acting president until elections are conducted.

Under Raisi’s presidency, Iran enriched uranium to levels closer to weapons-grade, intensifying tensions with Western nations. Tehran also supplied bomb-carrying drones to Russia for its conflict in Ukraine and supported militia groups across the region.

Iran has faced substantial internal challenges during this time, including mass protests against its Shiite theocracy due to economic hardships and restrictions on women’s rights. These issues have heightened the sensitivity of the moment for Tehran and the country’s future.

Among the casualties was Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian, aged 60. The helicopter also carried the governor of Iran’s East Azerbaijan province and other officials, as reported by the state-run IRNA news agency. The crash claimed the lives of eight people in total, including three crew members of the Bell helicopter, which Iran acquired in the early 2000s.

Iranian aircraft often operate with shortages of parts and without safety checks due to Western sanctions, a situation former Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif blamed on the United States in an interview on Monday.

“One of the main culprits of yesterday’s tragedy is the United States, which … embargoed the sale of aircraft and aviation parts to Iran and does not allow the people of Iran to enjoy good aviation facilities,” Zarif said. “These will be recorded in the list of US crimes against the Iranian people.”

Early on Monday, Turkish authorities shared drone footage indicating a fire in a remote area, suspected to be the wreckage of a helicopter. The coordinates provided in the footage placed the fire approximately 20 kilometers (12 miles) south of the Azerbaijan-Iranian border, on the slope of a rugged mountain.

Additionally, IRNA released footage on Monday morning, portraying what was identified as the crash site. Situated across a steep valley within a verdant mountain range, soldiers speaking in the local Azeri language can be heard confirming the discovery: “There it is, we found it.”

Iran confirmed that there were no survivors from the recent plane crash, prompting an outpouring of condolences from neighboring countries and allies. Pakistan declared a national day of mourning, while Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressed his country’s solidarity with Iran during this tragic time on the social media platform X. Leaders from Egypt, Jordan, and Syrian President Bashar Assad also offered their sympathies.

Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev stated that he and his government were “deeply shocked” by the incident, as the Iranian president had been returning from inaugurating a dam project on the border between Iran and Azerbaijan when the crash occurred.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan conveyed condolences, and Russian President Vladimir Putin’s statement described the deceased Iranian leader as “a true friend of Russia.”

Despite the tragedy, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei emphasized that the government’s operations would continue uninterrupted. According to Iran’s constitution, the vice president assumes the acting presidency upon the president’s death, with Khamenei’s approval. A new presidential election must then be held within 50 days.

Khamenei declared five days of public mourning and acknowledged that Mohammad Mokhber had taken over as acting president. Mokhber had already begun receiving calls from officials and foreign governments in the president’s absence.

An emergency Cabinet meeting was convened, and a statement was issued pledging to follow the late president’s path and assuring the nation that the country’s management would remain unaffected.

The deceased president, Ebrahim Raisi, a hardliner who previously headed the judiciary, was viewed as a potential successor to the 85-year-old Khamenei. With Raisi’s passing, the only other person suggested as a possible future supreme leader is Mojtaba Khamenei, the current leader’s 55-year-old son, though concerns have been raised about the position being inherited within the same family.

Raisi’s tenure was marked by Iran’s increasing uranium enrichment activities, hampering of international inspections, arming of Russia in the Ukraine war, and continued support for proxy groups in the Middle East. Widespread protests also persisted during his presidency, notably in response to the death of Mahsa Amini, who had been detained for allegedly violating hijab rules.

Raisi is the second Iranian president to die in office, following the assassination of Mohammad Ali Rajai in 1981 during the chaotic period after the Islamic Revolution.

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