Helicopter crash: Iranian President Raisi's funeral procession to take place on Tuesday

Supreme Leader Khamenei confirms Mohammad Mokhber as interim president, declares five days of public mourning

By
Reuters
Helicopter crash: Iranian President Raisis funeral procession to take place on Tuesday
People gather to mourn for the death of the late Iran's President Ebrahim Raisi, in Tehran, Iran May 20, 2024. — Reuters
  • First Vice President Mohammad Mokhber to assume power.
  • Death's confirmation came after "hours of extensive search".
  • Bad weather caused crash, says Iran's state media.

Iranian authorities announced on Monday that the funeral procession for President Ebrahim Raisi would be held in Tehran on Tuesday, following his death in a helicopter crash.

"On [Tuesday] morning, we will have the funeral procession in the city of Tehran" for Raisi and other members of his entourage killed in the crash, Mohsen Mansouri, vice president for executive affairs told state television.

Raisi, a hardliner seen as a potential successor to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, died after his helicopter crashed in poor weather in mountains near the Azerbaijan border, officials and state media said on Monday.

The charred wreckage of the helicopter which crashed on Sunday carrying Raisi, Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian and six other passengers and crew was found early on Monday after an overnight search in blizzard conditions.

Supreme Leader Khamenei, who holds ultimate power with a final say on foreign policy and Iran's nuclear programme, said First Vice President Mohammad Mokhber, would take over as interim president, the official IRNA news agency reported.

"I announce five days of public mourning and offer my condolences to the dear people of Iran," Khamenei said in a statement. Mokhber, like Raisi, is seen as close to Khamenei.

Under the Islamic Republic's constitution, a new presidential election must be held within 50 days.

Footage from Iranian state television showed wreckage scattered on a foggy hillside, while separate images from IRNA showed Red Crescent workers carrying a covered body on a stretcher. All those aboard the helicopter were killed, a senior Iranian official had earlier told Reuters.

Deputy Foreign Minister Ali Bagheri Kani was appointed as acting foreign minister following the death of Amirabdollahian, IRNA said.

Helicopter crash: Iranian President Raisis funeral procession to take place on Tuesday
An image showing the crash site of the helicopter carrying Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, FM Hossein Amirabdollahian and other senior officials in this image released on May 20, 2024. — Fars News Agency

State media reported that images from the site showed the US-made Bell 212 helicopter slammed into a mountain peak, although there was no official word on the cause of the crash. The dead also included the governor of East Azerbaijan Province and a senior imam from Tabriz city.

An Israeli official told Reuters it was not involved in the crash. "It wasn't us," said the official, who requested anonymity.

The helicopter went down in Varzeqan region north of Tabriz, state news agency IRNA reported, as Raisi returned from an official visit to the border with Azerbaijan in Iran's northwest.

Iran's military chief of staff Mohammad Bagheri ordered a probe into the cause of a helicopter crash that killed president Raisi and his entourage.

Bagheri ordered "a high-ranking committee to launch an investigation into the cause of the president's helicopter crash" that took place on Sunday, AFP reported quoting ISNA news agency.

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

Condolence messages

Messages of condolences poured in from Iran's regional neighbours and allies, including the leaders of Saudi Arabia, Syria, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Jordan, Iraq and Pakistan.

Russian President Vladimir Putin called Raisi "a true friend of Russia", while Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said he was "deeply shocked and saddened".

There was less reaction from Western capitals, though the European Union and Japan expressed condolences.

Iran-backed militant group Hamas, fighting Israeli forces in Gaza with Tehran's support, issued a statement expressing sympathy to the Iranian people for "this immense loss."

Lebanon's Iran-backed Hezbollah group and the Houthi rebels in Yemen also issued statements praising Raisi and mourning his death.

Meanwhile, the exiled opposition group, the National Council of Resistance of Iran, described his death in a statement as a "monumental and irreparable strategic blow" to the Islamic Republic.

Rescue teams fought rain, blizzards and difficult terrain through the night to reach the wreckage in the early hours of Monday.

“With the discovery of the crash site, no signs of life have been detected among the helicopter's passengers,” the head of Iran’s Red Crescent, Pirhossein Kolivand, told state TV.

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

Video showed a rescue team, wearing bright jackets and head torches, huddled around a GPS device as they searched a pitch-black mountainside on foot.

Prayers, searches

Rescue teams fought blizzards and difficult terrain through the night to reach the wreckage in the early hours of Monday.

“With the discovery of the crash site, no signs of life have been detected among the helicopter's passengers,” the head of Iran’s Red Crescent, Pirhossein Kolivand, told state TV.

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

Video 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.

Several countries had earlier expressed concern and offered assistance.

The White House said US 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.

Hardliner, possible successor to Khamenei

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 powers including Washington.

However, Raisi's standing may have been dented by widespread protests 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, had offered assistance in the rescue.