Iran’s president and foreign minister have been found dead at the scene of the helicopter crash

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi has been killed in a helicopter crash in a mountainous area of ​​the country.

Rescuers on Monday found the helicopter carrying the president and other officials, including Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian, who also died, the semi-official Mehr news agency reported. It crashed on Sunday near the village of Tavil in northwestern Iran.

Raisi was returning from an event on the border with Azerbaijan in a group of three helicopters when his plane crashed with nine people on board, all of whom were killed. There was dense fog in the region, making conditions difficult for rescue teams. The other two helicopters landed safely.

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said intelligence agencies had informed him that there is no evidence of foul play in the helicopter crash, NBC reported.

The president’s death comes at a time of unrest in the Middle East, as the war rages in Gaza between Israel and Hamas. The conflict has brought Iran, which backs the Islamist militant group, and Israel closer to all-out conflict and has led other Tehran-backed groups, including the Houthis in Yemen and Shiite militias in Iraq, to ​​send ships around the Red Sea and the U.S. have attacked. bases.

In April, Iran launched an unprecedented barrage of missiles and drones at Israel, its sworn enemy, although virtually all were intercepted and caused little damage. The Jewish state responded with a limited attack on an air base in Iran.

Although tensions between the two countries have since eased, they are still high as the Israeli army enters the eighth month of a war to destroy Hamas – designated a terrorist organization by the US and European Union.

Raisi, an ultraconservative cleric in his 60s who won the 2021 presidential election, was seen as a favorite to succeed Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader who is now in his 80s.

He will likely be succeeded by First Vice President Mohammad Mokhber, who has represented Iran on many recent foreign trips and who, like many senior Iranian officials, is subject to US sanctions. According to the constitution, elections are likely to be held within 50 days.

Raisi’s death “will not seriously disrupt Iran’s internal stability as security forces, the military and the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps remain under the control” of supreme leader Gregory Brew, an analyst at Eurasia, in a note. The IRGC is a powerful military and business force and controls much of Iran’s relations with the proxy militias.

Both Raisi and Amirabdollahian oversaw the restoration of Iran’s diplomatic ties with Saudi Arabia through a Chinese-brokered deal in March 2023. But it was also a time when there was also a stalemate in negotiations over Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers, including the US and the United States. lift Western economic sanctions.

Iranian television earlier broadcast live images of dozens of ambulances amid heavy rain and fog. Turkey’s Defense Ministry said it had sent a drone in response to a request from Iran to help locate and monitor the crash site. The EU helped by activating its rapid response mapping service.

Raisi met his Azerbaijani counterpart Ilham Aliyev to inaugurate a jointly developed dam on the border between the two countries early on Sunday.

The Iranian president was accused by human rights organizations of playing a major role in the mass execution of thousands of political dissidents in the late 1980s. In 2018, London-based Amnesty International said he chaired a “death commission” and called on the United Nations to investigate him for crimes against humanity.