Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi was killed in a helicopter crash along with the foreign minister, state media confirmed

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi was found dead along with the country’s foreign minister and others on Monday morning after their helicopter crashed in dense fog in a mountainous area in the country’s northwest, state media reported. Raisi turned 63.

The crash comes at a hugely tumultuous time for the Middle East the war between Israel and HamasDuring which Raisi, under Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, a unprecedented drone-and-missile attack on Israel just last month. Under Raisi, Iran enriched uranium closer than ever to weapons levelsfurther escalating tensions with the West as Tehran also supplied bomb-carrying drones to Russia for its war in Ukraine and continued to arm proxy groups in the Middle East, such as the Houthi rebels in Yemen and Hezbollah in Lebanon.

In this photo released by the Iranian Presidency, President Ebrahim Raisi attends the inauguration ceremony of the mother of Qiz Qalasi, or the girl’s castle in Azeri, on the border of Iran and Azerbaijan with his Azerbaijani counterpart Ilham Aliyev, on May 19 2024.

Office of the Iranian Presidency via AP

Raisi was also in power during years of major protests against Iran’s ruling Shiite Muslim theocracy, of which he was a key member, over the country’s ailing economy. female rights.

All these factors make this moment more sensitive for Tehran and the country’s future, but Iranians were quickly reassured that life would continue as it has been done by the country’s real top power, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Under the Islamic Republic’s system of governance, the president and all other officials report to the real decision-maker, Khamenei, who at the age of 85 has ruled the country since 1989.

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei delivers a speech on the crash of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi’s helicopter, May 19, 2024, in Tehran, Iran.

Iranian Leader News Agency/Anadolu/Getty

Under Iran’s constitution – which has been in force since the 1979 Islamic Revolution that brought ruling Muslim clerics to power – the vice president takes over Raisi’s duties as interim leader until new elections, which must be held within 50 days . Only candidates approved by the ruling clerics can run, so there is little chance of a major change in the direction of Iranian policy or policy.

Khamenei expressed his condolences for Raisi in a message carried by state media on Monday morning, in which he also announced a five-day mourning period and confirmed that Vice President Mohammad Mokhber would serve in the role until elections were held.

Bodies recovered from helicopter crash site

State television gave no immediate explanation for the crash, which took place in Iran’s East Azerbaijan province.

Iran’s Red Crescent said the bodies of all victims had been recovered from the crash site.

Among the dead was 60-year-old Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian. The helicopter also carried the governor of East Azerbaijan province, along with other officials and bodyguards, Iran’s state news agency IRNA said.

A screenshot of a video taken by the Turkish unmanned aerial vehicle Akinci shows a heat source believed to be the wreckage of a helicopter carrying Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi.

AA Video / Anadolu via Getty Images

Turkish authorities released drone video early Monday showing a heat signature at a spot in the wilderness that they “suspect is a helicopter wreckage.” The coordinates in the video place the fire about 12 miles south of the Azerbaijan-Iran border, on the side of a steep, forested mountain.

A video released by IRNA later Monday morning showed what the agency described as the crash site on a steep hill.

You can hear soldiers speaking in the local Azerbaijani language: “There it is, we found it.”

The Iranian government operates several helicopters, but international sanctions make it difficult to obtain parts for many of these helicopters. The military air fleet also largely predates the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

A helicopter carrying Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi takes off near the Iran-Azerbaijan border on May 19, 2024. The helicopter later crashed, killing Raisi and others on board, Iranian state media reported.

Ali Hamed Haghdoust/IRNA/WANA via REUTERS

Iran’s cabinet issued a statement after a meeting on Monday pledging to follow Raisi’s path, adding that “with the help of God and the people, there will be no problems in managing the country.”

The cabinet said the “hard-working president” had been “tortured” and vowed to keep the government running “without the slightest disruption.”

Raisi, a hardliner, was seen as a protege of Khamenei and some analysts believed he could even replace the octogenarian supreme leader if the ayatollah dies or resigns.

The only other person who has been suggested as a possible next supreme leader is Mojtaba Khameini, Khamenei’s 55-year-old son. However, some have expressed concern at the prospect of this position being taken – for only the third time since the 1979 revolution.

Raisi’s presidency: tumultuous times for Iran

Raisi won Iran’s last presidential election in 2021 – a vote that saw the lowest turnout in the country’s history and was denounced as undemocratic by the US and other Western countries.

Raisi was sanctioned by the US in part for his involvement in the 1988 mass execution of thousands of political prisoners at the end of the bloody war between Iran and Iraq.

By 2022, he narrated “60 minutes“that the sanctions imposed under former President Donald Trump and enforced by President Biden were ‘tyrannical.’

“The new administration in the US claims that they are different from the Trump administration,” Raisi told Lesley Stahl. “They have said it in their messages to us. But we have not seen any change in reality.”

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi: The 2022 60 Minutes Interview

Meanwhile, mass protests have been raging intermittently in the country for years – with the most recent and serious protests sparked by the 2022 elections. death of Mahsa Amini in police custody. She was arrested for violating the country’s strict dress code for women after allegedly wearing her hijab, or Islamic headscarf, inappropriately. More than 500 people were killed and more than 22,000 arrested during the months-long crackdown by security services in response to the demonstrations.

In March, a United Nations investigative panel ruled that Iran was responsible for the “physical violence” that led to Amini’s death.

Raisi is the second Iranian president to die in office. In 1981, a bomb attack killed President Mohammad Ali Rajai in the chaotic days after the revolution.