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Iran’s president confirmed dead in helicopter crash

Footage of the search for the downed helicopter

Source: Anadolu English

Iranian media has confirmed the death of the country’s president, Ebrahim Raisi, and Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian in a helicopter crash in the country’s mountainous East Azerbaijan province.

The official confirmation followed the discovery of the crash site of the helicopter, which was carrying the 63-year-old president, Abdollahian and seven others.

Iranian state media Press TV and semi-official Tasnim and Mehr news agencies are reporting all those on board were killed.

Reuters also reported the death of Raisi, citing a senior official.

Just hours earlier, officials and state TV had said there was “no sign of life” at the crash site in mountainous and remote terrain.

“President Raisi’s helicopter was completely burned in the crash … unfortunately, all passengers are feared dead,” an Iranian official told Reuters.

Rescue teams fought blizzards through the night to reach the wreckage early on Monday.

“We can see the wreckage and the situation does not look good,” the head of Iran’s Red Crescent, Pirhossein Kolivand, told state TV.

A Turkish drone identified a source of heat suspected to be the helicopter’s wreckage and had shared the co-ordinates of the possible crash site with Iranian authorities, Anadolu news agency said earlier on X.

Iranian state media said bad weather caused the crash and was complicating rescue efforts. State news agency IRNA said Raisi was flying in a US-made Bell 212 helicopter.

The chief of staff of Iran’s army ordered all resources of the army and the elite Revolutionary Guards to aid the search and rescue.

iran president helicopter

Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi at the site of a road and rail bridge project on Sunday. Photo: Getty

The national broadcaster halted regular programming to show prayers being held for Raisi across the country. One corner of screens showed live coverage of rescue teams trudging into the mountainous area in heavy fog.

Early on Monday (local time), it showed a rescue team, wearing bright jackets and head torches, huddled around a GPS device as they searched a pitch-black mountainside on foot amid a snowy blizzard.

“We are thoroughly searching every inch of the general area of the crash,” state media quoted a regional army commander as saying.

“The area has very cold, rainy, and foggy weather conditions. The rain is gradually turning into snow.”

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei sought to provide calm, saying there would be no disruption to governance.

Neighbouring countries expressed concern and offered assistance in any rescue. The White House said US President Joe Biden had been briefed on reports about the crash. The European Union offered emergency satellite mapping technology to help Iran with the search.

The crash comes at a time of growing dissent within Iran over an array of political, social and economic crises. Iran’s clerical rulers face international pressure over Tehran’s disputed nuclear program and its deepening military ties with Russia during the war in Ukraine.

Since Iran’s ally Hamas attacked Israel on October 7, provoking Israel’s assault on Gaza, conflagrations involving Iran-aligned groups have erupted throughout the Middle East.

Raisi, 63, was elected president in 2021, and since taking office has ordered a tightening of morality laws, overseen a bloody crackdown on anti-government protests and pushed hard in nuclear talks with world powers.

In Iran’s dual political system, split between the clerical establishment and the government, it is Raisi’s 85-year-old mentor Khamenei, supreme leader since 1989, who holds decision-making power on all major policies.

For years many have seen Raisi as a strong contender to succeed Khamenei, who has endorsed Raisi’s main policies.

Raisi’s victory in a closely managed election in 2021 brought all branches of power under the control of hardliners, after eight years when the presidency had been held by pragmatist Hassan Rouhani and a nuclear deal negotiated with Washington.

However, Raisi’s standing may have been dented by widespread protests against clerical rule and a failure to turn around Iran’s economy, hamstrung by Western sanctions.

Raisi had been at the Azerbaijani border on Sunday to inaugurate a joint dam project.

Also on Monday, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said he was monitoring reports about the crash.

Macquarie University research fellow Kylie Moore-Gilbert, who spent more than 800 days in an Iranian jail on false espionage charges, said there would be some levels of continuity but also uncertainty for leadership.

“It’s going to destabilise and shake up Iranian politics, irrespective of the fact that the guy on top, Ali Khamenei, remains in power,” she told Sky News.

“It would have quite a destabilising effect in that you would see a power struggle emerge amongst various hardliners as to who will succeed Ebrahim Raisi, but it’s also throwing the succession to Ali Khamenei into question.”

Albanese indicated Australia had been working with allied countries to try to de-escalate tensions in Iran to help prevent conflict in the Middle East from spreading.

-with AAP

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