Iran | Uncertainty persists over president’s fate after helicopter crash

(Tehran) Intense searches continued on Sunday evening in north-west Iran to find the helicopter carrying President Ebrahim Raïssi which was the victim of an “accident”, according to officials and official media.

What there is to know

  • Iranian President Ebrahim Raïssi was involved in a helicopter accident.
  • Mr. Raïssi was returning from a meeting with his Azerbaijani counterpart, Ilham Aliev.
  • Searches are underway in northwest Iran to find the helicopter.

The prospect of discovering alive the 63-year-old president, elected in 2021, diminished in the middle of the evening in the absence of information on the fate of the helicopter which disappeared at the beginning of the afternoon.

The main authority of the Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, called on Iranians to “pray” and “hope that God will bring the president and his companions back into the arms of the Nation”.

“The Iranian people should not worry, there will be no disruption in the administration of the country,” he added.


Research teams

The development of the situation was closely followed internationally, particularly in the United States, while Iran is a major player in the Middle East, a region shaken by the war in the Gaza Strip between Israel and the Hamas.

“We are closely following reports of a possible hard landing of a helicopter carrying the president and the Iranian Minister of Foreign Affairs,” said a diplomatic spokesperson in Washington.

Several Gulf countries (Saudi Arabia, Qatar, United Arab Emirates and Kuwait) provided support to Tehran and offered to help in the research, as did Syria and Iraq.

Turkey deployed 32 rescuers and six vehicles to Iran to participate in the search, while the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas, close to Tehran, expressed its “full solidarity with the Islamic Republic of Iran”.

“Adverse weather conditions”

The search was made very difficult by “unfavorable weather conditions,” Interior Minister Ahmed Vahidi said on state television, referring to a “hard landing” of the aircraft without giving details.

The European Union announced on Sunday that it had activated, at Iran’s request, “the CopernicusEMS rapid response mapping service” to support Tehran in this mission.

President Raïssi was on board the plane in the company of the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, the governor of the province and the main imam of the region, according to the Irna agency.

The aircraft, a Bell 212, was part of a convoy of three helicopters carrying the presidential delegation, two of which landed safely in Tabriz, the large city in the northwest, from where Mr. Raïssi was to reach Tehran.

State television broadcast images in the evening of worshipers praying for the president’s health in several mosques, including that of the holy city of Mashhad (north-east).

It also showed images of several members of the Iranian Red Crescent walking through thick fog in the search area before nightfall.


A rescue team in the fog

“More than 20 rescue teams equipped with complete equipment, including drones and rescue dogs,” had “been sent to the site,” according to Irna.

Members of the government have joined Tabriz, according to the government spokesperson. It is the first vice-president, Mohammad Mokhber, who would take over as president in the event of Mr. Raïssi’s death, pending the holding of a presidential election within 50 days.

With the President of Azerbaijan

Mr. Raisi visited the province of Eastern Azerbaijan on Sunday, where he notably inaugurated a dam in the company of the President of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliev, on the border between the two countries.


Ebrahim Raïssi inaugurated a dam in the company of the President of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliev.

During a joint press conference, he once again supported Hamas against Israel. “We believe that Palestine is the first issue of the Muslim world, and we are convinced that the people of Iran and Azerbaijan always support the people of Palestine and Gaza and hate the Zionist regime,” he said .

Iran launched an unprecedented attack on April 13 against Israel, with 350 drones and missiles, most of which were intercepted with the help of the United States and several other allied countries.

Mr. Raïssi, who has the title of ayatollah, has been president of the Islamic Republic for almost three years.

Considered an ultraconservative, he was elected on June 18, 2021 in the first round of a vote marked by a record abstention for a presidential election and the absence of strong competitors.

Always wearing his black turban and wearing a long religious cloak, he succeeded the moderate Hassan Rouhani, who beat him in the 2017 presidential election and could no longer run again after two consecutive terms.

Mr. Raïssi emerged strengthened at the end of the legislative elections held in March, the first national vote since the protest movement which shook Iran at the end of 2022 following the death of Mahsa Amini, a young woman arrested for non-compliance. -compliance with the strict dress code of the Islamic Republic.

The Iranian president then welcomed “a new historic failure inflicted on Iran’s enemies after the riots” of 2022.

Born in November 1960 in the holy Shiite city of Mashhad (north-east), Mr. Raïssi spent most of his career in the judicial system, notably being prosecutor general of Tehran then prosecutor general of the country.

Mr. Raïssi is on the American blacklist of Iranian officials sanctioned by Washington for “complicity in serious human rights violations”, accusations dismissed as null and void by the authorities in Tehran.

Aged 60, Hossein Amir-Abdollahian was appointed head of Iranian diplomacy by President Raïssi in July 2021.

A fierce supporter of pro-Iran groups in the Middle East, this diplomat was close to powerful General Qassem Soleimani, the head of the Quds Force of the Revolutionary Guards killed in Iraq in 2020 by an American strike.

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