Iranian President Raisi, Foreign Minister Died in Chopper Crash

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi has been confirmed dead following a helicopter crash in mountainous terrain near the Azerbaijan border on Sunday, according to officials and state media.

The helicopter, carrying Raisi and Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian, crashed on Sunday. Its charred remains were located early Monday after search efforts continued through the night amid blizzard conditions.

A senior Iranian official, who requested anonymity due to the sensitive nature of the information, confirmed that President Raisi, the foreign minister, and all passengers aboard the helicopter died in the crash.

The death of Raisi was further confirmed by Vice President Mohsen Mansouri in a social media post and by state television broadcasts.

State television also showed footage from the crash site, where the aircraft appeared to have collided with a mountain peak, though no official cause of the crash has been stated.

The state news agency IRNA reported that the helicopter involved was a U.S.-made Bell 212.

Raisi, aged 63, was elected president in 2021. His presidency has been marked by strict enforcement of morality laws, a severe response to anti-government protests, and vigorous efforts in nuclear negotiations with global powers.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who exercises ultimate authority over foreign policy and Iran’s nuclear ambitions, attempted to reassure the public, stating that Raisi’s death would not disrupt government functions.

Overnight, rescue teams battled severe weather and challenging terrain to locate the wreckage, finally reaching it in the early hours of Monday. Pirhossein Kolivand, head of Iran’s Red Crescent, told state TV that no survivors were found at the crash site.

Following the crash, national television programming was replaced with nationwide prayer services for Raisi. Footage displayed a rescue team navigating a dark, snow-covered mountainside using GPS and headlamps in their search.

The crash has drawn international attention, with expressions of concern and offers of aid from several countries.

The White House reported that U.S. President Joe Biden has been notified on the situation, China expressed deep concern, and the European Union has offered satellite mapping technology to assist.

This tragic event comes amidst increasing internal dissent in Iran over political, social, and economic challenges. The government is also facing international scrutiny over its nuclear program and escalating military involvement with Russia in the Ukraine conflict.

Since an attack by Iran’s ally Hamas on Israel on October 7, which triggered an Israeli offensive in Gaza, there have been widespread conflicts involving Iran-aligned groups across the Middle East.

Iran operates under a dual governance system, dividing power between the clerical establishment and the government.

Despite being the head of state, Raisi’s decisions were often overshadowed by his mentor, Khamenei, the supreme leader since 1989, who has the final say on major policy issues.

Raisi’s ascension to the presidency in a tightly controlled election in 2021 brought all branches of government under hardliner control, a shift from the eight-year tenure of pragmatist Hassan Rouhani, who had negotiated a nuclear deal with international powers including the U.S.

However, Raisi’s leadership faced significant challenges, including widespread protests against clerical rule and ongoing economic difficulties exacerbated by Western sanctions.

Raisi was in the region near the Azerbaijani border to inaugurate the Qiz-Qalasi Dam, a joint venture, on the day of the crash. Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev, who had met with Raisi earlier that day, extended offers of assistance for the rescue efforts.