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Helicopter carrying Iran’s President Raisi suffers a ‘crash landing’

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi looks on during a press conference concluding his appearance at the United Nations General Assembly, in New York City, U.S., September 20, 2023. 

Shannon Stapleton | Reuters

A helicopter with Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi on board suffered a “crash landing” on Sunday, state media reported, with weather conditions complicating rescue efforts.

Raisi’s condition was unclear, according to state news reports, which also aired prayers for his safety.

At least 20 rescue teams, including drones and search dogs, have been deployed, but harsh weather and heavy fog in the area were making it difficult for them to reach the site, state media added.

Iran’s foreign minister, Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, was also traveling in the helicopter, along with East Azerbaijan’s governor, Malik Rahmati, and Raisi’s security detail, it said. State TV IRIB said the helicopter belonged to the Iranian Red Crescent, which Iran’s Interior Minister Ahmad Vahidi said was part of a larger convoy. Their condition was also unknown.

“Various rescue groups are moving towards the site, but due to the fog and bad weather, it may take time to reach the area,” Vahidi said in comments aired on state media.

The officials were returning from the border with the country of Azerbaijan — in the northwest of the country, some 375 miles from the capital of Tehran — where Raisi was inaugurating a dam on the Aras river with Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev. Initially, reports put the incident near the city of Jolfa, but later said it was farther east near the village of Uzi. Details remain contradictory.

State media showed Red Crescent rescuers moving through a dense fog with only a few meters of visibility, and said the helicopter is believed to have crashed in a rural forest.

The Qiz Qalasi Dam is the third dam jointly built by Iran and neighboring Azerbaijan and took almost two decades to complete, according to state media.

While Iran flies a range of helicopters, international sanctions have made it difficult for Tehran to obtain the required parts for them. Most of the helicopters operated by the military date back to before the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Raisi, 63, is himself under sanctions by the U.S. over his involvement in the mass execution of thousands of political prisoners in 1988 at the end of the bloody Iran-Iraq war.

He was re-elected in 2021, during an election that saw the lowest turnout in the Islamic Republic’s history. A hard-liner, Raisi formerly led the country’s judiciary and is viewed as a protégé of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Although Raisi is the elected president and leads the government, he still answers to Khamenei, who serves as the head of state.

The death of Mahsa Amini in police custody two years ago triggered a wave of protests across the country that mushroomed into the largest challenge to the theocratic regime since its founding in 1979. The government rounded up protesters in a violent crackdown that killed hundreds of people.

In an interview with NBC News last year, Raisi defended the government’s response, warning that those who try to sow instability in the Islamic Republic would pay a “big cost.”

Under Raisi, Iran now enriches uranium at nearly weapons-grade levels and hampers international inspections. Iran has armed Russia in its war on Ukraine, as well as launched a massive drone-and-missile attack on Israel amid its war against Hamas in the Gaza Strip. It also has continued arming proxy groups in the Middle East including Yemen’s Houthi rebels and Lebanon’s Hezbollah.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.


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