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What We Know About the Helicopter Crash That Killed Iran’s President


The deaths of Iran’s president, Ebrahim Raisi, and foreign minister, Hossein Amir Abdollahian, in a helicopter crash have left one of the Middle East’s most powerful and disruptive nations at a critical moment.

Here’s a look at what we know about the crash and its potential implications.

Mr. Raisi, 63, and Mr. Amir Abdollahian were traveling back from Iran’s border with Azerbaijan after inaugurating a joint dam project when their helicopter went down in a remote and mountainous area around 1 p.m. local time on Sunday, according to state media.

Search and rescue teams battled rain and heavy fog to scour the mountains and dense forest for more than 10 hours, looking for the crash site. The authorities called off the aerial search at one point because of the weather, dispatching elite commandos of the Revolutionary Guards and others on foot.

State television urged the public to pray for the safety of Mr. Raisi and his delegation as the rescue effort — which involved about 2,000 people — stretched through the night.

Search teams found the helicopter on Monday morning as daylight broke, and broadcasts on state television showed images of burning debris. There were no survivors.

The helicopter crashed because of a “technical failure,” the IRNA state news agency said in an article paying tribute to Mr. Raisi. It appeared to be the first time a cause of the crash was indicated.

Mr. Raisi, a hard-line cleric who came of age during the country’s Islamic revolution, was the second most powerful person in Iran’s political structure after the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Following his ascent to the presidency in 2021, Mr. Raisi consolidated power and marginalized reformists. He expanded Iran’s regional influence, backing proxies across the Middle East, and oversaw a deadly crackdown on domestic protesters.

Mr. Amir Abdollahian was a career diplomat and, like Mr. Raisi, a hard-liner. He was seen as closely aligned with Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps and was also believed to have had a close relationship with Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani, the powerful leader of the Revolutionary Guards’ Quds Force, whom the United States killed in a drone strike in 2020.

The governor of East Azerbaijan Province, an imam and two senior military officials who headed Mr. Raisi’s security also died in the crash, the semiofficial Tasnim News Agency reported, along with the helicopter’s pilot and co-pilot.

The Iranian authorities have appeared eager to project a sense of order and control.

Ayatollah Khamenei — who had said there would be “no disruption” to the government’s work — issued a statement offering his condolences and announcing five days of public mourning.

He said that Iran’s first vice president, Mohammad Mokhber, will take over managing the government and will work with the heads of the legislature and judiciary to hold elections for a new president within 50 days. A conservative political operative, Mr. Mokhber has been involved in business conglomerates closely tied to the supreme leader.

To fill the hole left by the death of Mr. Amir Abdollahian, Iran’s Cabinet appointed one of his deputies, Ali Bagheri Kani, as the foreign ministry’s “caretaker,” the IRNA state news agency reported. Mr. Bagheri Kani has served as Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator and was involved in the 2023 deal that freed imprisoned Americans in exchange for several jailed Iranians and eventual access to about $6 billion in Iranian funds.

The death of Mr. Raisi, a conservative who violently crushed dissent, comes during a particularly tumultuous period for Iran.

Its long shadow war with Israel burst into the open after Hamas attacked Israel on Oct. 7, setting off a war in Gaza and a cascade of strikes and counterstrikes across the region. The hostilities became even more pronounced after Israel killed a number of senior Iranian commanders in a strike on an Iranian Embassy compound in Syria last month. Iran retaliated with its first direct attack on Israel after decades of enmity.

The future of Iran’s nuclear program is another crucial issue. Iran has produced nuclear fuel enriched to a level just short of what would be needed to produce several bombs. Just last week, Mr. Amir Abdollahian met with the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Rafael Grossi, who was demanding better access to Iran’s sprawling nuclear facilities.

Domestically, Iran is also facing widespread discontent, with many residents calling for an end to clerical rule. Corruption and sanctions have gutted the economy, stoking frustrations. In the last two years, the country has witnessed a domestic uprising, the Iranian currency plunging to a record low, water shortages intensified by climate change and the deadliest terrorist attack since the 1979 founding of the Islamic Republic.

Some analysts said they did not expect Mr. Raisi’s death to herald a major change in Iran’s international agenda, since the nation’s supreme leader is responsible for setting the country’s policies and the president’s power comes from enacting those decisions.

“At one level, the outcome does not portend a sea change in how Iran formulates and acts upon its interests abroad,” said Ali Vaez, the Iran director at the International Crisis Group.

However, Mr. Raisi’s unexpected death could change the political calculus within Iran, analysts said.

“The trouble for the regime is that a crash will unsettle the political environment,” said Afshon Ostovar, an associate professor of national security affairs at the Naval Postgraduate School in California. “That could spark political infighting inside the regime, especially behind the scenes.”

Mr. Raisi’s political rivals, some of whom had vocally criticized his rule, issued statements of condolence, including the grandson of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder of Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution. “The Islamic Republic of Iran has faced many very difficult situations since its inception and has overcome them,” said the grandson, Hassan Khomeini.

Messages also poured in from world leaders. Among them were President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia — who called Mr. Raisi a “wonderful person” and a “true friend of Russia” — and Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif of Pakistan.

Charles Michel, the president of the European Union, said that the European Union expressed its “sincere condolences” — a message that raised some eyebrows given the bloc’s fraught relationship with Iran.

Leily Nikounazar, Anushka Patil, Erika Solomon and Matina Stevis-Gridneff contributed reporting.



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