Saturday , June 22 2024

Iranian president Ebrahim Raisi is feared dead after rescuers locate helicopter crash site

Rescue crews have finally reached the site of the helicopter crash of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi near the border with Azerbaijan which has officials fearing for his life.

The reports – citing Iranian state media – are not yet clear on the condition of Raisi nor any of the others on board. The plane had been missing for over 12 hours.

‘Red Crescent search and rescue teams have reached the crash site of the helicopter carrying the president,’ the Iranian Red Crescent said in a statement, which added the crash was found in the village of Tavil. 

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.’ 

Iranian rescuers rushed to the site, state TV reported. The coordinates listed in the footage put the fire some 12 miles south of the Azerbaijan-Iranian border on the side of a steep mountain. 

It comes as state media claimed that allied Russia is sending a 50-man specialist mountain rescue unit to assist the search. The Russian Ministry of Emergency Situations confirmed it in a Telegram post. Approximately 73 teams, plus detector dogs, are involved, per Iran’s Red Crescent.

Iranian president Ebrahim Raisi is feared dead after the helicopter crash near the border with Azerbaijan Sunday putting his ¿life at risk¿, officials confirmed

Iranian president Ebrahim Raisi is feared dead after the helicopter crash near the border with Azerbaijan Sunday putting his ‘life at risk’, officials confirmed

A Turkish drone identified a source of heat suspected to be the helicopter's wreckage and had shared the coordinates of the possible crash site with Iranian authorities, Anadolu news agency said on X

A Turkish drone identified a source of heat suspected to be the helicopter’s wreckage and had shared the coordinates of the possible crash site with Iranian authorities, Anadolu news agency said on X

Iranian president Ebrahim Raisi (left) was pictured moments before the helicopter crash near the border with Azerbaijan which put his ¿life at risk¿

Iranian president Ebrahim Raisi (left) was pictured moments before the helicopter crash near the border with Azerbaijan which put his ‘life at risk’

Rescuers were last night struggling to locate the Iranian president after the helicopter he was travelling in crashed in bad weather.

An Iranian official said the lives of president Ebrahim Raisi and his foreign minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, among others, were ‘at risk’.

The men were on board one of three helicopters travelling in convoy over remote mountainous terrain cloaked in heavy fog when the aircraft went down. 

Raisi, Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian; Governor of Eastern Azerbaijan province Malek Rahmati, Tabriz’s Friday prayer Imam Mohammad Ali Alehashem as well as a pilot, copilot, crew chief, head of security and another bodyguard, according to Iranian media. 

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He was seen in an eerie staring out of the window of the aircraft, which was traveling in Iran’s East Azerbaijan province near Jolfa, around 375 miles northwest of Tehran when it crashed.

Rain and a lack of roads were hampering rescue attempts, the official said.

The mystery crash immediately ratcheted up tensions across the world. Iran is a major sponsor of Hamas which has been under relentless attack in Gaza since the terrorists launched the October 7 attacks on Israel.

Tehran is also a weapons supplier to Russia in its war on Ukraine – and some Moscow propagandists linked the president’s disappearance to the attempted assassination of pro-Kremlin Slovakian leader Robert Fico last week.

The Iranian Minister of Foreign Affairs applauded ‘numerous’ nations and organizations for helping the effort.

‘The Islamic Republic of Iran sincerely thanks the numerous governments, nations, and international organizations for their expressions of human emotion and solidarity with the government and people of Iran, as well as their offers of help and assistance for the search and rescue operation,’ the statement said.

Rescuers were last night struggling to locate the Iranian president after the helicopter he was travelling in crashed in bad weather

Rescuers were last night struggling to locate the Iranian president after the helicopter he was travelling in crashed in bad weather 

Rescue crews sped through a misty, rural forest where his helicopter was believed to be

Rescue crews sped through a misty, rural forest where his helicopter was believed to be

Some of the president’s on board entourage were reportedly able to communicate with rescue teams after the crash, ‘raising hopes that the incident could have ended without casualties’, according to Iranian news agency Tasnim. 

Last night the head of the Red Crescent relief and rescue operation said the ‘possible location of the crashed helicopter’ had been found.

Initial reports claimed Raisi’s aircraft had been forced to make a ‘hard landing’ in a forested area north of Varzeghan city in Iran’s East Azerbaijan province.

However last night regime loyalists gathered to pray for his wellbeing as the prospects of a rescue appeared to recede.

Neither the Islamic Republic News Agency nor state TV could offer any information on Raisi’s condition or whereabouts, with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei urging people ‘not to worry’.

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An Iranian official said: ‘We are still hopeful but information coming from the crash site is very concerning.’ A message was posted on Raisi’s Instagram page asking followers to pray for his safety.

While most commentators said the heavy fog could be to blame, Russian sources pushed unsubstantiated conspiracy theories blaming the West.

Vladimir Putin propagandist Margarita Simonyan – who is editor-in-chief of the state broadcaster RT – issued an extraordinary tirade linking the incident to the recent shooting of Fico in Slovakia. Iran is a close Russian ally which has supplied vast quantities of kamikaze drones and missiles to Putin, and there may be concern that a new president could change the terms of this partnership.

Rescue vehicles taking part in the search for the crashed helicopter carrying President Raisi

Rescue vehicles taking part in the search for the crashed helicopter carrying President Raisi

There was contact with a passenger and a crew member on board the helicopter, according to Iranian state TV

There was contact with a passenger and a crew member on board the helicopter, according to Iranian state TV

All army and Iranian guard resources were utilized in the search efforts for the helicopter

All army and Iranian guard resources were utilized in the search efforts for the helicopter

Raisi and his delegation had been in Azerbaijan to celebrate the opening of a new dam. 

Azeri president Ilham Aliyev wrote online: ‘We were profoundly troubled by the news of a helicopter carrying the top delegation crash-landing in Iran. Our prayers to Allah Almighty are with president Ebrahim Raisi and the accompanying delegation.

‘As a neighbor, friend, and brotherly country, the Republic of Azerbaijan stands ready to offer any assistance needed.’

Conspiracy theorists claimed Israel could be involved, noting that Azerbaijan is one of Israel’s few Muslim allies. Both Azerbaijan and Iraq offered to help with the search. The incident comes a month after Iran launched an unprecedented drone-and-missile attack on Israel.

Raisi is seen as a hardline cleric who has overseen a tightening of morality laws – and a crackdown on the resultant protests – since taking office in 2021.

Mahsa Amini, 22, was detained by morality police for wearing ‘improper’ hijab in 2022 and died three days later in hospital, sparking mass unrest. 

Since then hundreds more have been killed and thousands detained by security forces. Raisi has been regarded as one of two frontrunners to succeed 85-year-old Ayatollah Khamenei, along with Khamenei’s son Mojtaba.

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Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has said he is praying for President Ebrahim Raisi’s safety.

State media claimed that allied Russia is sending a 50-man specialist mountain rescue unit to assist the search. The Russian Ministry of Emergency Situations confirmed it in a Telegram post

State media claimed that allied Russia is sending a 50-man specialist mountain rescue unit to assist the search. The Russian Ministry of Emergency Situations confirmed it in a Telegram post

Tehran is a weapons supplier to Russia in its war on Ukraine ¿ and some Moscow propagandists linked the president¿s disappearance to the attempted assassination of pro-Kremlin Slovakian leader Robert Fico last week

Tehran is a weapons supplier to Russia in its war on Ukraine – and some Moscow propagandists linked the president’s disappearance to the attempted assassination of pro-Kremlin Slovakian leader Robert Fico last week

Iran flies a variety of helicopters in the country, but international sanctions make it difficult to obtain parts for them.

Its military air fleet also largely dates back to before the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

President Joe Biden has been briefed on the incident, according to the White House and the US is ‘closely watching’ reports.

Iraq has offered to help Iran in the search and rescue mission.

Hamas issued a statement following the helicopter crash expressing ‘great concern’ over the incident.

‘In this painful incident, we express our full solidarity with the Islamic Republic of Iran, its leadership, government, and people, and we ask Allah Almighty to protect and ensure the safety of the Iranian President and his accompanying delegation, and to keep all harm away from the brotherly Iranian people,’ the militant group said.

Raisi’s death would mark a monumental moment for Iran and the Middle East region as there are fears of instability among the Iranian regime.

He won Iran’s 2021 presidential election, a vote that saw the lowest turnout in the Islamic Republic’s history.

He is sanctioned by the U.S. in part over his involvement in the mass execution of thousands of political prisoners in 1988 at the end of the bloody Iran-Iraq war.

Under Raisi, Iran now enriches uranium at nearly weapons-grade levels and hampers international inspections.

Iran has armed Russia in its war on Ukraine and launched a massive drone-and-missile attack on Israel amid its conflict in Gaza.

It also has continued arming proxy groups in the Mideast, like Yemen’s Houthi rebels and Lebanon’s Hezbollah.

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