Iran begins mourning period after President Ebrahim Raisi killed in helicopter crash

Iranian state news services say both President Raisi and the country's foreign minister died in Sunday's crash, after the site of the incident was finally located. ITV News Global Security Editor Rohit Kachroo reports

Iran has begun five days of mourning after the country's president Ebrahim Raisi, the country’s foreign minister and other officials were killed in a helicopter crash.

The crash killed eight people in all, state media reported, including three crew members Iran’s Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian, the governor of Iran’s East Azerbaijan province Malek Rahmati, and other officials and bodyguards. Their bodies were found after an hourslong search impeded by the mountainous terrain and thick fog.

State TV gave no immediate cause for the crash.

Mr Raisi, 63, was returning from a visit to Iran's border with Azerbaijan on Sunday to inaugurate a dam with Azerbaijan's President Ilham Aliyev.

All cultural and arts activities in Iran will be suspended for seven days following the death of Mr Raisi, the Ministry of Culture announced on Monday.

His body and the other victims of Sunday's helicopter crash will be transferred on Tuesday from Tabriz to the northeastern city of Mashhad, where Mr Raisi was born, according to Fars news.

A large public ceremony is scheduled to take place at a prayer hall in Tabriz at 4 pm local time on Monday. At 9 am local time on Tuesday, a large procession will accompany the bodies of Mr Raisi and the other victims from Tabriz Martyr's Square to the city's airport. From there, the bodies will be moved to Mashhad, according to Fars.

Search and rescue teams on Monday. Credit: Azin Haghighi, Moj News Agency via AP
In this photo provided by Moj News Agency, rescue teams are seen near where a helicopter carrying Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi crashed. Credit: AP

In a statement on Monday, the president's cabinet praised Mr Raisi as a "hard-working and tireless" president who served the people of Iran to help advance and progress the country

"[He] stood by his promise and sacrificed his life for the nation," the statement said.

Leaders across the world - including Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Syria's President Bashar Al-Assad - have expressed their condolences following the crash.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, in a statement released by the Kremlin, described Mr Raisi “as a true friend of Russia.”

Meanwhile, Iran-backed militant groups Hamas, the Houthis, and Hezbollah have also sent messages of support.

The government convened an “urgent meeting” on Monday as Iran’s clerical establishment, headed by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, begin the search for a new leader.

Next in the line of presidential succession is Vice President Mohammad Mokhber, who has been approved by Khamenei.

The Iranian constitution also mandates that the three heads of the branches of government, including the vice president, speaker of the parliament, and head of the judiciary, must arrange for an election and elect a new leader within 50 days of assuming the role of acting president.

Iran's first Vice President Mohammad Mokhber is now acting president of the Iranian state. Credit: AP

Who was Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi?

Mr Raisi was a controversial political figure, known for his hardline conservatism and for helping to oversee the mass executions of thousands in 1988, that would become known as “death commissions.”

After Iran’s then-Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini accepted a United Nations (UN)-brokered ceasefire in the years-long Iran-Iraq war, members of the Iranian opposition group Mujahedeen-e-Khalq, heavily armed by Saddam Hussein, stormed across the Iranian border from Iraq in a surprise attack.

The trials began around that time, with defendants asked to identify themselves. Those who responded “mujahedeen” were sent to their deaths, while others were questioned about their willingness to “clear minefields for the army of the Islamic Republic,” according to a 1990 Amnesty International report.

International rights groups estimate that as many as 5,000 people were executed. Mr Raisi served on the commissions, earning him the nickname the 'Butcher of Tehran'.

“I am proud of being a defender of human rights and of people’s security and comfort as a prosecutor wherever I was,” he said in 2021 after being elected.

His leadership was marked by internal dissidence after mass protests swept the country in 2022 following the death of Mahsa Amini, a woman who had been detained over allegedly not wearing a hijab, or headscarf, to the liking of authorities.

The ensuing security crackdown saw demonstrations kill more than 500 people and more than 22,000 others were detained.

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

By 2023, Iranian-backed Hamas targeted Israeli, mounting tensions in the Middle East and sparking a war in Gaza. Last month, Tehran launched an unprecedented drone and missile attack on Israel itself - its first ever direct attack on the country - in response to a deadly apparent Israeli airstrike on Iran’s consulate in Damascus.

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