Iranian president, foreign minister killed in tragic helicopter crash

Picture courtesy of The Indian Express

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and his foreign minister were tragically killed in a helicopter crash amidst mountainous terrain and icy weather, as reported by state media. The wreckage was located in East Azerbaijan province after search teams mobilized.

State TV initially provided no immediate cause for yesterday’s crash in Iran’s East Azerbaijan province. Among the casualties was 60 year old Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian.

Accompanying Raisi was the governor of Iran’s East Azerbaijan province and other officials along with bodyguards, as reported by the state-run IRNA news agency.

An Iranian official earlier informed Reuters that the helicopter was completely consumed by fire in the crash.

State TV footage from the site depicted the aircraft slammed into a mountain peak, yet there was no official confirmation regarding the cause of the crash.

State news agency IRNA stated that Raisi was travelling in a US-made Bell 212 helicopter. Iran operates various helicopter models, however, international sanctions pose challenges in obtaining spare parts. Much of its military air fleet dates back to before the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Strict morality laws

The 63 year old Raisi assumed the presidency in 2021. During his tenure, he implemented stricter morality laws, oversaw a crackdown on anti-government protests, and played a significant role in nuclear negotiations with global powers.

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who wields ultimate authority over foreign policy and Iran’s nuclear program, sought to reassure Iranians earlier, asserting that state affairs would continue without disruption.

Rescue teams battled blizzards and treacherous terrain overnight to reach the wreckage early Monday morning.

Previously, national broadcasting halted regular programming to broadcast prayers held for Raisi nationwide. In the early hours of today, May 20, it aired footage of rescue teams equipped with bright jackets and head torches scouring the dark mountainside amid a blizzard.

Several nations expressed concern and offered assistance in the rescue efforts. The White House confirmed US President Joe Biden had been briefed on the crash. China expressed deep concern, while the European Union offered emergency satellite mapping technology.

The crash occurred amidst growing dissent in Iran over political, social, and economic challenges. International pressure mounts over Iran’s disputed nuclear program and its deepening military cooperation with Russia amid the conflict in Ukraine.

Clerical establishment

Within Iran’s political system, divided between the clerical establishment and the government, Raisi’s 85 year old mentor Khamenei holds decisive power over major policies.

For years, Raisi has been viewed as a potential successor to Khamenei, who has endorsed Raisi’s key policies.

Raisi’s victory in the 2021 election consolidated power among hardliners, following eight years of a presidency held by pragmatist Hassan Rowhani and a nuclear deal negotiated with global powers, including Washington.

However, Raisi’s stature may have suffered due to widespread protests against clerical rule and challenges in revitalizing Iran’s economy amidst Western sanctions.

Raisi had been at the Azerbaijani border to inaugurate the Qiz-Qalasi Dam, a joint project. Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev bid a “friendly farewell” to Raisi earlier in the day and offered assistance in the rescue efforts, reported South China Morning Post.

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Bob Scott

Bob Scott is an experienced writer and editor with a passion for travel. Born and raised in Newcastle, England, he spent more than 10 years in Asia. He worked as a sports writer in the north of England and London before relocating to Asia. Now he resides in Bangkok, Thailand, where he is the Editor-in-Chief for The Thaiger English News. With a vast amount of experience from living and writing abroad, Bob Scott is an expert on all things related to Asian culture and lifestyle.

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