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Search and rescue efforts underway as helicopter carrying Iranian President Raisi suffers ‘crash landing’

A helicopter carrying Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi suffered a “crash landing” on Sunday, state media reported, with weather conditions complicating rescue efforts.

Raisi’s condition was unclear, according to state media, which also broadcast prayers for his safety.

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi.Jason DeCrow / AP File

At least 40 rescue teams, including drones and search dogs, were deployed, but harsh weather conditions and heavy fog in the area made their access to the site difficult, state media said. Eight ambulances were dispatched to the scene of the accident and the fog prevented air rescue, they added.

Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian was also traveling on the helicopter, along with East Azerbaijan Governor Malik Rahmati and Raisi’s security services, it said. State television IRIB said the helicopter belonged to the Iranian Red Crescent, which Iranian Interior Minister Ahmad Vahidi said was part of a larger convoy. Their condition was also unknown.

“Various rescue groups are heading towards the site, but due to fog and bad weather, it may take time to reach the area,” Vahidi said in comments carried by state media. The officials were returning from the border with Azerbaijan. — in the northwest of the country, some 600 kilometers from the capital Tehran — where Raisi inaugurated a dam on the Aras River with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev. Initially, reports placed the incident near the town of Jolfa, but later indicated that the incident occurred further east, near the village of Uzi. The details remain contradictory.

“Azerbaijan is ready to offer all necessary assistance,” Aliyev said in a message on X. “We were deeply disturbed by the news of the crash landing of a helicopter carrying the highest delegation in Iran “.

State media showed Red Crescent rescuers moving through dense fog with only a few meters of visibility, and said the helicopter was believed to have crashed in a rural forest.

With no clarity on Raisi’s condition, worried Iranians began praying with dozens of people gathered in the city of Qom, a holy city for Shiite Muslims, state media showed. Raisi’s Instagram page also posted a story asking people to pray for him.

Although Raisi is the president-elect and heads the government, he still answers to Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who is head of state.

If Raisi dies, Iran’s first vice president, Mohammad Mokhber, will be next in line to run for president after receiving Khamenei’s approval. A new president must then be elected in 50 days.

The Qiz Qalasi Dam is the third dam built jointly by Iran and neighboring Azerbaijan and its construction took almost two decades, according to state media.

While Iran flies a range of helicopters, international sanctions have made it difficult for Tehran to obtain the necessary parts for these helicopters. Most of the helicopters used by the army date from before the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Raisi, 63, is himself under American sanctions for his involvement in the mass execution of thousands of political prisoners in 1988, at the end of the bloody Iran-Iraq war.

He was re-elected in 2021, in an election that saw the lowest turnout in the history of the Islamic Republic. A hardliner, Raisi once headed the country’s justice system and is seen as a protégé of Khamenei and a likely contender for the throne.

The death of Mahsa Amini in police custody two years ago sparked a wave of protests across the country that turned into the biggest challenge to theocratic rule since its founding in 1979. The government arrested the demonstrators in a violent crackdown that killed hundreds of people.

In an interview with NBC News last year, Raisi defended the government’s response, warning that those who tried to sow instability in the Islamic Republic would pay a “high price.”

Under Raisi, Iran now enriches uranium to levels close to weapons manufacturing and obstructs international inspections. Iran has armed Russia in its war against Ukraine and launched a massive drone and missile attack on Israel as part of its war against Hamas in the Gaza Strip. It also continued to arm proxy groups in the Middle East, including Yemen’s Houthi rebels and Lebanon’s Hezbollah.

News Source : www.nbcnews.com
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