Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Helicopter carrying Iranian president involved in accident

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Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi’s life is at risk after his helicopter crashed as it was crossing mountain terrain in heavy fog, an Iranian official has said, describing information emerging from the scene as “very concerning”.

Iran’s interior minister Ahmed Vahidi confirmed to state TV that one of the helicopters in a convoy carrying President Raisi, 63, had a rough landing on Sunday, adding that rescue teams have been struggling to reach the site as they are being hampered by difficult weather conditions.

The country’s Fars News Agency has urged Iranians to pray for their president, while state TV has aired prayers for his safety as well as showed worshipers praying for his health in the holy city of Mashhad.

Rescue crews sped through a misty, rural forest where the helicopter is believed to be, with state TV saying the incident happened near Jolfa, a city on the border with Azerbaijan, some 600 kilometres (375 miles) north-west of the Iranian capital Tehran.

President Ebrahim Raisi (left) speaks with his Azeri counterpart Ilham Aliyev on the inauguration of a dam earlier on Sunday before the accident (AP)

President Raisi was travelling in Iran’s East Azerbaijan province with Iran’s Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian, the governor of Iran’s East Azerbaijan province and other officials, the state-run IRNA news agency reported.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, an Iranian official told Reuters the lives of both the president and foreign minister are “at risk following the helicopter crash”, which happened on the way back from a visit to the border with Azerbaijan. They added: “We are still hopeful, but information coming from the crash site is very concerning.”

Neither IRNA nor state TV immediately offered any information on President Raisi’s condition.

There had been heavy rain and fog reported in the area, which IRNA called a “forest”, with some wind.

Mr Vahidi said in comments aired on state TV: “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. 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: “The region is a bit [rugged] and it’s difficult to make contact. We are waiting for rescue teams to reach the landing site and give us more information.”

President Raisi had been in Azerbaijan early on Sunday to inaugurate a dam with Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev. The dam is the third one that the two nations built on the Aras River. The visit came despite chilly relations between the two nations, including over a gun attack on Azerbaijan’s Embassy in Tehran in 2023, and Azerbaijan’s diplomatic relations with Israel, which Iran’s Shiite theocracy views as its main enemy in the region.

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 Raisi is a hard-liner who formerly led the country’s judiciary (Iranian Presidency/AFP via Getty)

President Raisi is a hard-liner who formerly led the country’s judiciary. He is viewed as a protégé of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and some analysts have suggested he could replace the 85-year-old leader after his death or resignation from the role.

President Raisi won Iran’s 2021 presidential election, a vote that saw the lowest turnout in the Islamic Republic’s history. He is sanctioned by the US 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 the 63-year-old, 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 Mideast, like Yemen’s Houthi rebels and Lebanon’s Hezbollah.

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