Iran’s President Raisi and foreign minister die in a helicopter crash

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi is welcomed by Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa, at Harare airport in Harare, Zimbabwe, on July 13, 2023. Iran's Presidency/Mohammad Javad Ostad/WANA (West Asia News Agency)/Handout via REUTERS
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TEHRAN (AP) — Early Monday, rescue teams in northwest Iran located the missing helicopter carrying President Ebrahim Raisi and other top officials, but no signs of life have been detected so far, according to state TV reports.

The helicopter went missing on Sunday in East Azerbaijan province, carrying President Raisi, Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, and others. The incident has sparked widespread concern for the 63-year-old ultraconservative leader.

“Upon finding the helicopter, there was no sign of the helicopter passengers being alive as of yet,” state TV reported approximately 15 hours after the aircraft went missing.

Pirhossein Koolivand, the head of Iran’s Red Crescent, confirmed the discovery of the helicopter and said rescue teams were en route to the site. “The situation is not good,” Koolivand added.

Harsh Weather Conditions

Iranian media, including Fars news agency, shared drone images of the helicopter wreckage. Earlier, state television reported that a Turkish drone had identified the crash site and provided coordinates to Iranian rescue teams.

The helicopter crash occurred in the Jolfa region of East Azerbaijan province. The search operation, involving 73 rescue teams, faced difficult conditions due to thick fog and rain in the mountainous area.

Official Statements and Public Reassurance

Interior Minister Ahmad Vahidi stated that the helicopter made a hard landing due to bad weather and urged the public to rely on state television for accurate information.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei assured the nation, urging Iranians not to worry about the country’s leadership. “We hope that Almighty God will bring our dear president and his companions back in full health into the arms of the nation,” Khamenei said in a nationally televised address.

International Reactions

Expressions of concern and offers of assistance have come from Iraq, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Russia, Turkey, and the European Union. Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman, Nasser Kanani, expressed gratitude for the international support.

Emergency Response

Following the incident, Iran’s cabinet held an emergency meeting led by Vice President Mohammad Mokhber. Rescue teams, including army, Revolutionary Guard, and police officers, were deployed to the mountainous Dizmar forest area near Varzaghan.

President Raisi had been visiting the northwestern province to inaugurate a dam project with Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev. Aliyev expressed his concern and offered any necessary assistance.

High Regional Tensions

The helicopter crash occurred amid high regional tensions due to the Gaza war between Israel and Hamas, which has drawn in other armed groups in the Middle East. The U.S. State Department and President Joe Biden are closely monitoring the situation.

President Raisi has led Iran since 2021, succeeding moderate Hassan Rouhani. His tenure has been marked by economic challenges due to U.S. sanctions and significant political unrest, including protests following the death of Mahsa Amini in custody in 2022.

In his recent speech, Raisi reiterated Iran’s support for Palestinians, a central aspect of Iran’s foreign policy since the 1979 Islamic revolution. – AFP