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Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi killed in helicopter crash

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, 63, along with Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian, 60, and other officials, were found dead at the site of a helicopter crash in the mountainous region of Iran’s northwest, state media reported on Monday. The crash occurred in East Azerbaijan province and was discovered after an hours-long search in foggy conditions.

The incident comes at a time of heightened instability in the Middle East, exacerbated by the ongoing Israel-Hamas conflict. Just last month, under Raisi and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran launched an unprecedented drone-and-missile attack on Israel.

Raisi’s tenure also saw Iran advancing its uranium enrichment to near weapons-grade levels, escalating tensions with Western nations. Additionally, Tehran has been supplying bomb-carrying drones to Russia for its war in Ukraine and supporting various militia groups in the region.

Domestically, Iran has been grappling with mass protests against its Shiite theocracy, fueled by economic woes and demands for women’s rights, adding to the sensitivity of Raisi’s death for the future of the country.

State TV did not provide an immediate cause for the crash. Reports indicate that the helicopter carried several high-ranking officials, including the governor of East Azerbaijan province and their bodyguards. Early Monday, Turkish authorities released drone footage showing a suspected crash site fire 20 kilometers south of the Azerbaijan-Iranian border on a steep mountain.

Footage from IRNA displayed the crash site in a green mountainous area, where soldiers speaking Azeri confirmed the discovery. On Sunday night, Khamenei had urged the public to pray for Raisi’s safe return. He emphasized that the government’s operations would continue regardless of the outcome.

Under the Iranian constitution, the first vice president assumes the presidency if the president dies, pending Khamenei’s assent, with new elections to follow within 50 days.

First Vice President Mohammad Mokhber has already begun receiving calls from officials and foreign governments, according to state media. An emergency cabinet meeting was convened as the announcement of Raisi’s death was made.

Under the leadership of Ebrahim Raisi

Raisi, a hard-liner and former judiciary chief, was seen as a protégé of Khamenei and a potential successor. His death leaves Mojtaba Khamenei, the Supreme Leader’s 55-year-old son, as a possible successor. Meanwhile, the prospect of another hereditary transition is controversial given Iran’s revolutionary history.

Raisi’s presidency began with a historically low voter turnout in the 2021 election. It was marked by significant international and domestic challenges. He was sanctioned by the US for his role in the mass execution of political prisoners in 1988.

Under his leadership, Iran’s nuclear activities intensified, and the nation took aggressive stances in regional conflicts, including providing support to Russia and proxy groups like Yemen’s Houthis and Lebanon’s Hezbollah.

Mass protests have persisted in Iran. The most significant followed the 2022 death of Mahsa Amini, who had been detained over hijab regulations. The subsequent crackdown resulted in over 500 deaths and more than 22,000 detentions. A UN panel in March attributed Amini’s death to state-inflicted violence.

Raisi’s death marks the second instance of an Iranian president dying in office. In 1981, President Mohammad Ali Rajai was killed in a bombing amid post-revolution turmoil.

Read More: Israel suspected of attempting assassination on Iranian president

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