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    Helicopter carrying Iran's president Raisi makes rough landing, says state TV

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    Helicopter carrying Iran's president Raisi makes rough landing, says state TV
    • May 19, 2024 • 27 days ago
    in summary
    A helicopter carrying Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, the foreign minister, and other officials crashed in northwest Iran on Sunday, prompting a major rescue operation in foggy, mountainous terrain. Details remain unclear, and there was no immediate update on Raisi's condition. The crash happened near Jolfa, close to the Azerbaijan border. Raisi had been visiting to inaugurate a dam. The incident comes amid heightened geopolitical tensions and internal protests in Iran. President Joe Biden has been briefed on the situation.

    A helicopter carrying Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, the country's foreign minister, and other officials apparently crashed in the mountainous northwest reaches of Iran on Sunday. The incident sparked a massive rescue operation in a fog-shrouded forest, as the public was urged to pray for those on board.

    The likely crash occurred as Iran, under Raisi and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has been navigating a complex geopolitical landscape. Last month, the country launched an unprecedented drone-and-missile attack on Israel and has been enriching uranium closer than ever to weapons-grade levels. Concurrently, Iran has faced years of mass protests against its Shiite theocracy over an ailing economy and women’s rights, intensifying the sensitivity of this moment for Tehran as the Israel-Hamas war inflames the wider Middle East.

    President Raisi was traveling in Iran’s East Azerbaijan province. According to state TV, a “hard landing” happened near Jolfa, a city on the border with Azerbaijan, approximately 600 kilometers (375 miles) northwest of Tehran. However, later reports placed the incident farther east near the village of Uzi, with details remaining contradictory.

    Iranian President visiting East Azerbaijan
    President Raisi before boarding the helicopter

    Traveling with Raisi were Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian, the governor of Iran's East Azerbaijan province, other officials, and bodyguards, reported the state-run IRNA news agency. While one local government official described the event as a “crash,” others referred to it as either a “hard landing” or an “incident.” There was no immediate information on Raisi’s condition in the hours following the event. However, hard-liners urged the public to pray for him. State TV broadcast images of prayers at the Imam Reza Shrine in Mashhad and other locations across the country, airing the prayers nonstop.

    “The esteemed president and company were on their way back aboard some helicopters, and one of the helicopters was forced to make a hard landing due to the bad weather and fog," said Interior Minister Ahmad Vahidi on state TV. "Various rescue teams are on their way to the region, but because of the poor weather and fogginess, it might take time for them to reach the helicopter.” He added that the region's rugged terrain made contact difficult and that more information would be available once rescue teams reached the site.

    The IRNA news agency described the area as a “forest,” known for its mountainous terrain. State TV aired footage of SUVs racing through a wooded area, hampered by poor weather conditions, including heavy rain and wind. A rescue helicopter attempted to reach the presumed crash site but could not land due to heavy mist, according to emergency services spokesman Babak Yektaparast.

    Iranian government spokesman Ali Bahadori Jahromi acknowledged the "difficult and complicated conditions" in the search and urged patience, prayer, and trust in the relief groups. Raisi had been visiting the border with Azerbaijan to inaugurate a dam with Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev, despite recent tensions between the two nations.

    Iran operates a variety of helicopters, but international sanctions make it challenging to obtain parts. Raisi was reportedly aboard a helicopter resembling a Bell 412, previously seen in official photographs.

    President Raisi's helicopter
    In this photo provided by Islamic Republic News Agency, IRNA, the helicopter carrying Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi takes off at the Iranian border with Azerbaijan after President Raisi and his Azeri counterpart Ilham Aliyev inaugurated the dam of Qiz Qalasi, or Castel of Girl in Azeri, Iran, Sunday, May 19, 2024. A helicopter carrying President Raisi suffered a "hard landing" on Sunday, Iranian state media reported, without elaborating.

    Raisi, 63, is a hard-liner and former head of Iran’s judiciary. Viewed as a protégé of Khamenei, he is considered a potential successor to the 85-year-old leader. Raisi won Iran's 2021 presidential election with the lowest turnout in the Islamic Republic’s history and is sanctioned by the U.S. for his role in the mass execution of political prisoners in 1988.

    Under Raisi's leadership, Iran has enriched uranium to near weapons-grade levels and hindered international inspections. The country has armed Russia in its war on Ukraine and launched attacks on Israel amidst its conflict with Hamas. Meanwhile, protests within Iran continue, notably sparked by the death of Mahsa Amini in 2022, which led to a severe security crackdown.

    President Joe Biden has been briefed on the incident, but U.S. officials have not learned more than what has been reported by Iranian state media.

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