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Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi killed in helicopter crash, official says

By Parisa Hafezi and Yomna Ehab

DUBAI (Reuters) – Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and his foreign minister were killed in a helicopter crash in mountainous terrain and freezing weather, an Iranian official said on Monday, after search teams located the wreck in East Azerbaijan province.

“President Raisi, the foreign minister and all the passengers on the helicopter were killed in the accident,” the senior Iranian official told Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter. .

Iran’s Mehr news agency confirmed the deaths, reporting that “all passengers on the helicopter carrying the Iranian president and foreign minister were martyred.”

An Iranian official earlier told Reuters that the helicopter carrying Raisi and Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian was completely burned in Sunday’s crash.

State television reported that images from the site showed the plane hitting a mountain peak, although there was no official information on the cause of the accident.

The official IRNA news agency said Raisi was flying aboard a US-made Bell 212 helicopter.

Raïssi, 63, was elected president in 2021 and, since taking office, has ordered a strengthening of morality laws, overseen a bloody crackdown on anti-government protests and lobbied in nuclear negotiations with world powers.

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who holds ultimate power and has the final say over Iran’s foreign policy and nuclear program, had previously sought to reassure Iranians, saying there would be no disruption of state affairs.

PRAYERS, RESEARCH

Rescue teams battled blizzards and difficult terrain through the night to reach the wreckage in the early hours of Monday.

“With the discovery of the accident site, no signs of life were detected among the passengers of the helicopter,” Iranian Red Crescent head Pirhossein Kolivand told state television.

Previously, the national channel had interrupted all regular programming aimed at broadcasting prayers in favor of Raisi across the country.

In the early hours of Monday, it showed a rescue team, clad in luminous jackets and headlamps, huddled around a GPS device as they searched the side of a pitch-black mountain on foot in a storm of snow.

Several countries have expressed concern and offered help with any rescue.

The White House said US President Joe Biden had been briefed on reports of the accident. China expressed deep concern. The European Union has proposed emergency satellite mapping technology.

THE HARDLINER, POSSIBLE SUCCESSOR TO KHAMENEI

The crash comes at a time of growing dissent in Iran over a series of political, social and economic crises. Iran’s clerical leaders face international pressure over Tehran’s controversial nuclear program and its deepening military ties with Russia during the war in Ukraine.

Since Iran’s ally Hamas attacked Israel on October 7, provoking Israel’s assault on Gaza, conflicts involving Iran-aligned groups have erupted across the Middle East.

In Iran’s dual political system, divided between the clerical establishment and the government, it is Raisi’s mentor, Khamenei, 85, supreme leader since 1989, who holds decision-making power over all major policies.

For years, many viewed Raisi as a serious candidate to succeed Khamenei, who supported Raisi’s main policies.

Raisi’s victory in a closely managed election in 2021 brought all branches of power under the control of hardliners, after eight years of a presidency occupied by the pragmatic Hassan Rouhani and a nuclear deal negotiated with major powers. including Washington.

However, Raisi’s position may have been undermined by widespread protests against clerical rule and the failure to revive Iran’s economy, crippled by Western sanctions.

Raisi was on the Azerbaijani border on Sunday to inaugurate the Qiz-Qalasi dam, a joint project. Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, who said he bid a “friendly farewell” to Raisi earlier in the day, offered to help with the rescue.

(Reporting by Parisa Hafezi in Dubai and Yomma Ehab in Cairo; writing by Stephen Coates; editing by Lincoln Feast.)

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