Iran’s President, Foreign Minister and others found dead at helicopter crash site

Iran’s first vice president, Mohammad Mokhber, would serve as the country’s acting president until elections are held.

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In this photo provided by Moj News Agency, rescue teams are seen near the site of the incident of the helicopter carrying Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi in Varzaghan in northwestern Iran, Sunday, May 19, 2024. (Azin Haghighi, Moj News Agency via AP)

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, the country’s foreign minister and several other officials were found dead on Monday, hours after their helicopter crashed in a foggy, mountainous region of the country’s northwest, state media reported.

The crash comes as the Middle East remains unsettled by the Israel-Hamas war, during which Raisi, who was 63, under Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei launched an unprecedented drone-and-missile attack on Israel just last month.

Khamenei announced Monday that Iran’s first vice president, Mohammad Mokhber, would serve as the country’s acting president until elections are held.

During Raisi’s term in office, Iran enriched uranium closer than ever to weapons-grade levels, further escalating tensions with the West as Tehran also supplied bomb-carrying drones to Russia for its war in Ukraine and armed militia groups across the region.

Meanwhile, Iran has faced years of mass protests against its Shiite theocracy over its ailing economy and women’s rights — making the moment that much more sensitive for Tehran and the future of the country.

State TV gave no immediate cause for the crash that occurred in Iran’s East Azerbaijan province.

Among the dead was Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian, 60. The helicopter also carried the governor of Iran’s East Azerbaijan province and other officials, the state-run IRNA news agency reported. IRNA said the crash killed eight people in all, including three crew members on the Bell helicopter, which Iran purchased in the early 2000s.

Aircraft in Iran face a shortage of parts, often flying without safety checks over Western sanctions. Because of that, former Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif sought to blame the United States for the crash in an interview o. MmMonday..

“One of the main culprits of yesterday’s tragedy is the United States, which … embargoed the sale of aircraft and aviation parts to Iran and does not allow the people of Iran to enjoy good aviation facilities,” Zarif said. “These will be recorded in the list of US crimes against the Iranian people.”

The U.S. has yet to comment publicly on Raisi’s death.

Early Monday morning, Turkish authorities released what they described as drone footage showing what appeared to be a fire in the wilderness that they “suspected to be wreckage of helicopter.”

The coordinates listed in the footage put the fire some 20 kilometers (12 miles) south of the Azerbaijan-Iranian border on the side of a steep mountain.

Footage released by the IRNA early Monday showed what the agency described as the crash site, across a steep valley in a green mountain range. Soldiers speaking in the local Azeri language said: “There it is, we found it.”

Condolences started pouring in from neighbors and allies after Iran confirmed there were no survivors from the crash. Pakistan announced a day of mourning and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in a post on X that his country “stands with Iran in this time of sorrow.” Leaders of Egypt and Jordan also offered condolences, as did Syrian President Bashar Assad.