Iranians turn out for Ebrahim Raisi's funeral ceremony as Khamenei leads prayers in Tehran

Processions in capital for former leader, foreign minister and others killed in helicopter crash, after cortege passed through Tabriz on Tuesday

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Crowds gathered in Tehran for the funeral of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi on Wednesday morning, where several events will be held before his burial in Mashhad in north-eastern Iran.

Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has declared five days of national mourning, led funeral prayers at Tehran University, attended by foreign dignitaries and representatives of Iran-backed militant groups from across the region.

Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh was seen among mourners surrounding Mr Raisi's coffin as state TV broadcast footage of large crowds gathering across the capital, where black flags and Iranian flags intermingled on Tehran’s main thoroughfares.

Mourning ceremonies were held in Tabriz, north-western Iran, and the holy city of Qom on Tuesday, after the death of the Iranian leader in a helicopter crash on Sunday.

Mr Raisi, Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian and several other officials were killed in the crash while returning from the inauguration of a dam on the border with Azerbaijan.

The funeral cortege moved through central Tehran to the city's Enghelab Square on Wednesday afternoon.

State TV ran footage of clerics, army generals and other mourners crying at the university gathering, while crowds of Mr Raisi's supporters prayed in Enghelab Square and other sites across the city.

Tehran residents received phone messages urging them to “attend the funeral of the martyr of service”, AFP reported, while Wednesday was declared a national holiday.

Everyone onboard the helicopter died immediately except for Mohammed Ali Ale Hashem, Mr Khamenei's representative for East Azerbaijan province, the president's chief of staff said on Wednesday.

Mr Raisi's helicopter was the second of three travelling in a presidential convoy, Gholamhossein Esmaili said.

He said the weather was “good” before the convoy encountered fog in a “limited area".

Mr Ale Hashem used the pilot's phone to make a call, saying he was injured and surrounded by trees. He answered calls for three or four hours after the crash as rescue teams scoured the mountainside in heavy fog.

Tehran has refuted Ankara's claims a Turkish drone found the wreckage, claiming its own drones possess superior radar.

The Iranian army said one of its drones was recalled from the Indian Ocean and found the wreckage after a Turkish drone had scoured the area.

In his first public appearance since the International Criminal Court announced it would seek his arrest, Mr Haniyeh told mourners Mr Raisi was a “steadfast” supporter of the Palestinian cause and recalled meeting him on the Palestinian issue during Ramadan.

Hezbollah deputy leader Naim Qassem was seen alongside Mr Haniyeh.

Egypt, Iraq, Armenia and China were among countries that sent representatives to Mr Raisi's funeral.

The hardline president, 63, who took office in 2021, had been widely expected to succeed Mr Khamenei, 85, as supreme leader.

State-run and affiliated media outlets published conflicting reports on the number of foreign dignitaries attending the funeral.

The semi-official Tasnim news agency, affiliated with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), said more than 50 foreign delegations attended the ceremony in Tehran, including 10 heads of state.

Other media outlets suggested 15 heads of state and 40 foreign delegations had travelled to the capital.

Large crowds turned out in Tabriz on Tuesday as a lorry carrying the caskets of the deceased moved slowly through streets lined with portraits of Mr Raisi and his colleagues.

Their coffins were then transferred to Tehran's Mehrabad International Airport, where a guard of honour awaited, before a procession through the clerical heartland of Qom, south of Tehran.

Ceremonies will continue in Birjand, in eastern Iran, on Thursday morning, before the burial of Mr Raisi at the Imam Ali Reza shrine in Mashhad.

Mr Amirabdollahian will be buried in the Shah Abdol Azim shrine, in the city of Rey, in Tehran province, the final resting place of numerous clerics and politicians.

Mr Raisi's time in office was marked by some of the most tumultuous periods in Iran's history, including nationwide protests caused by the death of Mahsa Amini in September 2022.

The 22-year-old died after being detained by the morality police in Tehran for wearing her hijab “improperly”.

Hundreds of people were killed in the ensuing clampdown on protests, with at least 20,000 arrested and several executed for joining demonstrations.

Iran also hastened its nuclear activity during Mr Raisi's presidency, enriching record levels of uranium despite international sanctions and banning UN inspectors from visiting nuclear sites. It also drew the ire of the EU for weapons sales to Russia.

Mr Khamenei has led tributes for the late president, while mourning from the general population has been muted, noting his role in the execution of political prisoners and oppression of regime critics.

The family of the IRGC's Quds Force Maj Gen Qassem Suleimani, who was assassinated by the US in Iraq in 2020, said Mr Raisi “lived as a martyr” and “came to a good end”.

Mr Raisi's predecessor, Hassan Rouhani, said a “bitter page has been turned in the book of the Islamic Revolution”.

Updated: May 23, 2024, 4:28 AM