Iran’s President Raisi, possible successor to Khamenei, dies in helicopter crash

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi

DUBAI, MAY 20: Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi died after his helicopter crashed in bad weather near the Azerbaijan border, officials and state media reported on Monday. Raisi, a hardliner and potential successor to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, was among the eight people killed, including Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian.

The helicopter crashed on Sunday in the mountains, and the wreckage was found on Monday after a night-long search in a blizzard. Supreme Leader Khamenei announced that First Vice President Mohammad Mokhber would serve as interim president and declared five days of public mourning.

A new presidential election must be held within 50 days according to Iran’s constitution. Images from the crash site showed the wreckage scattered on a foggy hillside. All passengers, including the governor of East Azerbaijan Province and a senior imam, died in the crash.

Iran’s military chief of staff has ordered an investigation into the crash. Raisi, elected in 2021, had enforced stricter morality laws, cracked down on protests, and was involved in nuclear talks.

Condolences came from various countries, including Saudi Arabia, Russia, India, and others. The National Council of Resistance of Iran, an exiled opposition group, called Raisi’s death a “strategic blow” to the Islamic Republic.

Rescue teams battled harsh weather to locate the crash site, with no survivors found. The national broadcaster aired prayers for Raisi, and rescue footage showed teams searching the mountainside in difficult conditions. Several countries, including the US and China, expressed concern and offered assistance.