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Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi killed in helicopter crash, state media reports

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, his foreign minister and other passengers were killed in a helicopter crash in mountainous terrain and icy weather, an Iranian official said on Monday after search teams located the wreckage in the country's East Azerbaijan province.

Foreign minister, other passengers also reported killed in crash

A man sits on a chair

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, his foreign minister and other passengers were killed in a helicopter crash in mountainous terrain and icy weather, an Iranian official said on Monday after search teams located the wreckage in the country's East Azerbaijan province.

"President Raisi, the foreign minister and all the passengers in the helicopter were killed in the crash," the senior Iranian official told Reuters, asking not to be named because of the sensitivity of the matter.

Iran's Mehr news agency confirmed the deaths, reporting that "all passengers of the helicopter carrying the Iranian president and foreign minister were martyred."

An Iranian official earlier told Reuters the helicopter carrying Raisi and Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian was completely burned in the crash on Sunday.

State TV reported that images from the site showed the aircraft slammed into a mountain peak, although there was no official word on the cause of the crash.

Rescues stand in fog

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.

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who holds ultimate power with a final say on foreign policy and Iran's nuclear program, had earlier sought to reassure Iranians, saying there would be no disruption to state affairs.

A Turkish drone identified a source of heat suspected to be the helicopter's wreckage early on Monday and had shared the coordinates of the possible crash site with Iranian authorities, Turkey's state-run Anadolu news agency posted on X.

Iranian state news agency IRNA said Raisi was flying in a U.S.-made Bell 212 helicopter.

The chief of staff of Iran's army ordered all resources of the army and the elite Revolutionary Guards to be put to use in search and rescue operations.

Earlier, the national broadcaster had stopped all regular programming to show prayers being held for Raisi across the country.

In the early hours of Monday, 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 in a 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.

A woman prays

Several countries expressed concern and offered assistance in any rescue.

The White House said U.S. President Joe Biden had been briefed on reports about the crash. China said it was deeply concerned. The European Union offered emergency satellite mapping technology.

Domestic and regional tensions

The crash comes at a time of growing dissent within Iran over an array of crises — including mass protests against its Shia theocracy over women's rights and an ailing economy. 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 Oct. 7 and the ensuing war against the militant group in Gaza, conflagrations involving Iran-aligned groups have erupted throughout the Middle East.

Tensions between Iran and Israel reached unprecedented heights in mid-April after Iran launched more than 300 drones and ballistic missiles at Israel. The attack, mostly launched from inside Iran, caused only modest damage in Israel as most were shot down by Israel aerial defence systems and with help from the U.S., Britain and Jordan — although a seven-year-old girl in a Bedouin Arab town was seriously wounded.

Tehran had vowed revenge since an April 1 airstrike in Syria killed two Iranian generals inside an Iranian consular building. Iran accused Israel of being behind the attack, but Israel hasn't commented on it.

A helicopter is seen flying.

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.

Widespread protests

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 powers including 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 the Qiz-Qalasi Dam, a joint project. Azerbaijan's President Ilham Aliyev, who said he had bid a "friendly farewell" to Raisi earlier in the day, offered assistance in the rescue.

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