Iranian President, Foreign Minister Tragically Killed in Helicopter Crash – State Media Reports

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Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian and other officials were found dead Monday at the site of a helicopter crash in northwestern Iran, state media said.

Search crews found the wreckage Monday, a day after the helicopter crashed in bad weather near Varzaqan in Iran’s East Azerbaijan province.

State media said the passengers were travelling back to Iran from an event just across the border with Azerbaijan, where they met with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev to inaugurate a dam project.

FILE - Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi attends a press conference, in New York City, September 20, 2023.
FILE – Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi attends a press conference, in New York City, September 20, 2023.

Iranian media said the crashed helicopter was one of three transporting Iranian officials back from the event, where they inaugurated the Khoda Afarin and Giz Galasi hydroelectric power plants along the Aras River that marks the border between Iran and Azerbaijan. The plants are located on the stretch of river between the Azerbaijani district of Jabrayil and Iran’s East Azerbaijan province.

Varzaqan, East Azerbaijan province, Iran
Varzaqan, East Azerbaijan province, Iran

Aliyev posted a statement on the X platform saying he was “profoundly troubled” by the crash of Raisi’s helicopter and offering prayers and assistance as a “friend and brotherly country.”

Iran’s constitution says that if the president dies or is incapacitated, the role is filled by the first vice president, a position currently held by Mohammad Mokhber until a new presidential election is held within 50 days. The role of the president is subservient to Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who retains his ultimate authority over the country’s affairs.

Raisi, an ultraconservative Khamenei protege seen by some observers as the supreme leader’s preferred successor, was elected president in a 2021 vote that saw his most prominent rivals barred from running and a record low turnout from the electorate.

A helicopter carrying Iran's President Ebrahim Raisi takes off, near the Iran-Azerbaijan border, May 19, 2024.
A helicopter carrying Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi takes off, near the Iran-Azerbaijan border, May 19, 2024.

Images posted to social media and deemed credible by VOA Persian showed opponents of Iran’s authoritarian Islamist rulers setting off fireworks in multiple locations late Sunday to celebrate the prospect of Raisi’s demise.

In one video, a female narrator identifies the location of the fireworks as southern Tehran.

In another, a male narrator reacts to what he says are fireworks in the city of Saqqez in northwestern Iran’s Kurdistan province.

VOA could not independently verify the circumstances of the fireworks as it is barred from reporting inside Iran.

Earlier Sunday, Iranian state TV showed footage of government supporters gathering in different parts of the country to pray for Raisi’s safe return.

State news agency IRNA quoted Khamenei as saying: “The Iranian nation shouldn’t be worried. There will be no disruption to the operations of the country.”

IRNA also published a photo showing Vice President Mokhber chairing an emergency cabinet session to deal with the crash’s aftermath.

In a VOA Persian TV interview on Sunday, Germany-based independent Iranian journalist and researcher Reza Talebi said that if Raisi has died, Iran’s Islamist rulers may declare him a martyr who died as a result of foul play by their chief external enemies, Israel and the United States. There is no evidence of foul play.

A U.S. State Department spokesperson said Washington is closely following reports of the Iranian helicopter crash. “We have no further comment at this time,” the spokesperson said.

Payam Yazdian, Farhad Poulavi and Masood Farahmand of VOA’s Persian Service and VOA Azerbaijani Service chief Asgar Asgarov contributed to this report.

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