Iran presidential elections set for June 28 as probe into Raisi's helictoper crash begins

Tehran says results of official investigation into deaths of president and foreign minister will be announced

The late Iranian president, Ebrahim Raisi. AP
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Iranian Armed Forces chief Maj Gen Mohammad Bagheri has assigned a high-ranking delegation to investigate the helicopter crash in which President Ebrahim Raisi and other high-ranking officials were killed.

The delegation has been sent to the crash site and the results of the investigation will be announced when the mission is completed, Irna said later on Monday.

Iran will hold presidential elections on June 28, the state news agency said.

The date was decided in a meeting of senior officials led by interim president Mohammad Mokhber, who was First Vice President.

Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian, East Azerbaijan provincial governor Malik Rahmati and Mohammed Ali Ale Hashem, supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's representative to East Azerbaijan, were also killed in the helicopter crash.

Ayatollah Raisi, the beloved president of our country, was martyred in a helicopter crash in the Varzaghan region of East Azerbaijan and joined the supreme kingdom,” Irna said.

Mr Khamenei has declared five days of national mourning, confirming their deaths with "great sorrow and regret".

"The Iranian nation lost a sincere and valuable servant," he said in a statement.

Mehdi Mousavi, head of Mr Raisi's protection unit, pilots Taher Mostafavi and Mohsen Darynaosh, and several bodyguards were also killed in the crash, Irna reported.

The group was travelling from Azerbaijan to Iran’s city of Tabriz when their helicopter made a “hard landing” due to heavy fog, state media said on Sunday afternoon.

It said “no sign of life” was detected at the site of the crash in East Azerbaijan province, after more than 70 rescue teams spent the night scouring the mountainous terrain on foot.

Initial reports on the crash varied wildly, including claims that contact had been made with several people onboard the helicopter.

On Monday, Irna reported that Mr Ale Hashem survived for an hour after the crash and contacted Mr Raisi's chief of staff, Gholam Hossein Esmaili.

The bodies were removed from the crash site on Monday morning and taken to the city of Tabriz, the Red Crescent announced, with funeral arrangements set to be revealed by the government.

Experts say the death of Mr Raisi, widely seen as the successor to an ailing Mr Khamenei, 85, will disrupt the choice for the next supreme leader.

The hardliner, 63, took office in 2021 and hastened Iran's nuclear programme, in addition to presiding over the fierce government clampdown on anti-regime protests sparked by the death of Mahsa Amini in morality police custody in September 2022.

The government introduced tighter restrictions on public freedom after the protests.

Former foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif blamed the US for the crash, saying sanctions prevented Tehran from buying modern aircraft and parts.

Israeli officials denied involvement in the deaths, in statements to Reuters.

Mr Raisi served in Iran's judiciary, including as deputy prosecutor for Tehran, and was well known for his role in the execution of thousands of political prisoners in the 1980s, earning him the nickname “the Butcher of Tehran”.

The government said Mr Raisi “sacrificed his life” for Iran and “did nothing but serve the great people of Iran on the way to the advancement and progress of the country”.

State work will continue “without the slightest disruption”, it said.

Several foreign heads of state expressed their condolences, including Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia Al Sudani and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Pakistan also declared a day of mourning, while Lebanon will observe three.

In 2019, Mr Raisi was placed under sanctions by the US “for his administrative oversight over the executions of individuals who were juveniles at the time of their crime, and the torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment of prisoners in Iran, including amputations”.

Executions of regime critics also soared under Mr Raisi's reign, with human rights organisations recently saying one person was being executed every five hours in Iran.

His death comes about three months after Iran's parliamentary elections, in which the 41 per cent turnout was the lowest since 1979.

Voters boycotted the election amid continuing opposition to a regime that has adopted tougher crackdowns on critics and failed to revive an ailing economy weakened by successive rounds of sanctions.

'Faithful servant'

The death of Mr Amirabdollahian, who had close ties with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and regional proxies, comes at a time when Iran-allied groups continue to fight Israel in response to its campaign in Gaza, and weeks after unprecedented tension between Israel and Iran led to direct attacks.

In an obituary published by Irna on Monday, former diplomat Fatullah Tavasoli said Mr Amirabdollahian “was one of the leading people in obeying the orders of the supreme leader” and working with regional proxies against Israel.

He had a “very intimate and close relationship” with Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah, Mr Tavasoli said.

Iran's Strategic Council of Foreign Relations said the minister was a "faithful servant" and acted to counter "cruel" international sanctions against Tehran, which have increased in recent months over support for Yemen's Houthi rebels and a surge in executions of regime critics.

Deputy Foreign Minister Ali Bagheri Kani has been appointed as Mr Amirabdollahian's replacement.

All sporting domestic events have been cancelled for the next week while cinemas have been closed as public officials issue statements mourning the president and foreign minister.

While authorities across Iran announced the start of grieving ceremonies on Monday morning, many Iranians bereaved and exiled under Mr Raisi's rule and previous leaders welcomed his death.

On Sunday night, social media footage showed fireworks set off in several Iranian cities, including Ms Amini's hometown of Saqqez in the Kurdish west.

On social media, users in Iran and the diaspora made light of the deaths while government authorities warned social media accounts were under surveillance over suspected public incitement.

In a post on X, activist Masih Alinejad said the people of Iran had the right to “rejoice”.

Mr Raisi's death “represents a monumental and irreparable strategic blow to supreme leader Ali Khamenei and the entire regime, notorious for its executions and massacres”, said Maryam Rajavi, president of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, which includes the Mojahedin e-Khalq organisation.

Hamed Esmaeilion, whose wife and daughter were killed when Ukrainian Airlines Flight 752 was shot down by the IRGC, said Mr Raisi deserved to be brought to justice.

“His victims have been robbed of the opportunity to bring this criminal to justice, but his name shall be etched in history in the dark shroud of criminality,” he wrote on X.

Updated: May 21, 2024, 6:22 AM