Raisi was 63 and had been elected to office in 2021Raisi was 63 and had been elected to office in 2021

Ebrahim Raisi was returning from the inauguration of a dam on the border with Azerbaijan. A hardline politician, he was seen as a possible successor to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. A foreign minister also died in the crash.

(DW) Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi died in the crash of a helicopter carrying him this Sunday (19/05) in a mountainous region of the country, Iranian state media said on Monday.

“The president of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Ebrahim Raisi, suffered an accident while serving and fulfilling his duty to the people of Iran and was martyred,” said the Mehr news agency, in line with other local media reports.

Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, decreed five days of mourning for Raisi. “I announce five days of public mourning and offer my condolences to the dear people of Iran,” Khamenei said in a statement on Monday. He appointed Raisi’s deputy, Mohammad Mokhber, as the country’s interim president.

In addition to Raisi, Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian was traveling on the same aircraft and also died. His replacement was Ali Bagher, who was leading international negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program.

Both were returning from a visit to the Iranian province of East Azerbaijan, where they inaugurated a dam with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev on the border between the two countries. The helicopter disappeared from radar on Sunday afternoon and search efforts began immediately. The wreckage was located on Monday, with no sign of life from its occupants.

According to the country’s constitution, a council made up of the vice president, the speaker of parliament and the president of the judiciary must call an election to choose a new Iranian president within 50 days.

Who was Raisi?

The 63-year-old Iranian politician was elected to the post in 2021 after other conservative and moderate rivals were disqualified from the ballot.

Born into a very religious family in the country’s second largest city, Mashhad, Raisi underwent extensive theological training and held the title of Hujjat al-Islam, which means “authority in Islam”. In the country’s religious hierarchy, this position is second only to that of Ayatollah.

His career began at the age of 20, after the 1979 Islamic Revolution, when he was appointed prosecutor general of Karaj, a suburb of Tehran. He was later deputy prosecutor in Tehran during the staged trials of political prisoners in 1988, which became known as the “death commissions”. Although the number of people killed across the country has never been confirmed, human rights groups estimate at least around 5,000 victims of the purges.

In recent years, Raisi had been tipped as one of the favorites to succeed Khamenei as Iran’s supreme leader.

His presidency was marked by a stalemate in international negotiations over its nuclear program and by large-scale riots across the country at the end of 2022, following the death of Jina Mahsa Amini in custody after she was detained by the morality police for allegedly wearing a hijab improperly.

During Raisi’s tenure, Iran also stepped up its uranium enrichment and supported Russia in its decision to invade Ukraine. The country has also strengthened its support for the so-called “axis of resistance”, a regional alliance created and financed by Iran that includes Hamas, Hisbollah and the Houthi rebels. Several Western countries, including the United States and Germany, consider Hamas and Hisbollah to be terrorist organizations.

Last month, Iran launched a missile and drone attack on Israel amid the conflict in Gaza, which was effectively repelled with the support of Israel’s allies and even some Arab countries. Earlier this month, Raisi said that “Iran supports the legitimate defense of the Palestinian nation,” while praising Hamas’ “resistance” efforts.

Drone image of the area near where the helicopter wreckage was located

International repercussions

Leaders from several countries expressed their condolences to Iran for Raisi’s death. Chinese President Xi Jinping said through a Foreign Ministry spokesman that Raisi had “made important contributions to maintaining Iran’s security and stability, promoting national development and prosperity, and leading positive efforts to consolidate and expand the comprehensive strategic partnership between China and Iran”. “His unfortunate death is a great loss to the Iranian people, and the Chinese people have also lost a good friend,” he said.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in a statement that he will remember Raisi “with respect and gratitude” and praised his “efforts for the peace of the Iranian people and our region during his time in office”. Turkish authorities sent a drone on Sunday night to help locate the wreckage of the helicopter.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said in a statement that Raisi’s death was a “great tragedy” and a “difficult and irreparable loss”. “As a true friend of Russia, he made an invaluable personal contribution to the development of good neighborly relations between our countries and made great efforts to bring them to the level of a strategic partnership,” he said.

Lebanon, home to the Iranian-backed Hisbollah group, declared three days of official mourning over Raisi’s death. Leaders of other countries in the region also expressed their grief, such as Syrian President Bashar Assad, who also declared three days of official mourning, and Azerbaijan’s Ilham Aliyev. Hamas, Hisbollah and the Houthi rebels also expressed their sorrow at Raisi’s death.

The President of the European Council, Charles Michel, said in a post on X that the European Union expressed its “sincere condolences” for the death of Raisi and Abdollahian, as well as that of other members of the delegation who were on the aircraft. “Our thoughts are with their families.” Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni said on television that she was expressing her “solidarity and Italy’s solidarity with the Iranian government and the Iranian people”.

A group of Iranian opposition members living in exile, represented by the National Council of Iranian Resistance (CNRI), said that Raisi’s death “means a monumental and irreparable strategic blow to the supreme leader of the mullahs, Ali Khamenei, and to the entire regime, notorious for its executions and massacres”. “This will trigger a series of repercussions and crises within the theocratic tyranny, which will spur the young rebels into action,” CNRI leader Maryam Rajavi said in a statement.

bl (AP, Reuters, AFP, DW) *** Translated by DEFCONPress FYI Team***

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