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What caused Iran President Raisi’s helicopter crash? What we know

The death of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi in a helicopter crash in northern Iran has shaken the world and led to wide speculation about the circumstances.

The helicopter transporting Raisi, Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, Tabriz Friday prayers leader Ayatollah Mohammad Ali Ale-Hashem, East Azerbaijan Governor General Malek Rahmati and an unspecified number of guards went down Sunday in Iran’s East Azerbaijan province following a trip to the neighboring country of Azerbaijan.

Search teams spent the day combing the area amid thick fog and icy weather before a drone on early Monday identified a thermal signal thought to be the wrecked aircraft. No survivors were found, and Raisi’s death was confirmed shortly afterward.

Ebrahim Raisi

The late Iranian president, Ebrahim Raisi, speaks during Russian-Iranian talks at the Grand Kremlin Palace on December 7, 2023, in Moscow. Raisi was killed in a helicopter crash in northern Iran on Sunday.
The late Iranian president, Ebrahim Raisi, speaks during Russian-Iranian talks at the Grand Kremlin Palace on December 7, 2023, in Moscow. Raisi was killed in a helicopter crash in northern Iran on Sunday.
Contributor/Getty Images

Rumors surrounding the president’s death have begun their inevitable spread online, including unfounded allegations about the circumstances leading to the crash. Also, fingers have been pointed in terms of who might be responsible but without any evidence or support.

Here is what is known so far.

What Caused the Crash?

Iranian officials have not yet said what caused the crash, according to the Associated Press, although bad weather may have played a role. Thick fog was present when the helicopter crashed and during the search efforts.

During the initial search for the crash site, Pir-Hossein Koulivand, president of the Iranian Red Crescent Society, said that its 40 search teams were working despite “challenging weather conditions” and that it was “impossible” to conduct drone-assisted aerial searches.

Eventually, drones were able to find a fire that led to the wreckage, about 12 miles south of the Azerbaijan-Iranian border.

It was initially unclear if Raisi and the others on board had survived the crash. However, search and rescue crews that reached the site on Monday confirmed there were no survivors, state media reported.

Footage sourced from the Fars News Agency and the Red Cross showed what appeared to be the helicopter crash site, including the vehicle’s tail in a wooded area.

Following the news, social media was awash with theories about Israel’s involvement but with no credible evidence beyond the current tensions between the two nations.

While an official statement has not yet been released, an Israeli official told Reuters that Israel had nothing to do with the crash, saying, “It wasn’t us.”

Speaking to ABC Australia, Adel Abdel Ghafar, director of foreign policy and security at the Middle East Council on Global Affairs, said it was unlikely that Israel would have “attempted such a move like this.”

“This would be a direct act of war likely to provoke a severe response from Iran, and Israel’s strategy has always been attacking Iran covertly, militarily and so on. And military targets rather than political leaders,” he said.

“But if there is some sort of external power,” Ghafar added, “then this tinderbox can potentially explode.”

Elsewhere on social media, some users have claimed that the U.S. “believes” that Raisi was assassinated. This is not supported by evidence and appears to be merely engagement farming, a technique commonly used on social media in the wake of global news events to attract viewers or audiences to a channel, even with unsupported or phony claims.

Newsweek has contacted the White House and the Iranian mission to the United Nations via email for comment.

At this point, with the helicopter discovered less than 24 hours ago, there has been no confirmation of what caused the crash. While poor weather may have played a part, the circumstances are still under investigation.

Who Was Ebrahim Raisi?

Raisi, a former judiciary chief, was elected president in June 2021 and was poised to stand for reelection for a second four-year term next year. His victory marked a major win for Iran’s conservative elite, which has increasingly consolidated power in recent years, enhancing the influence of the country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

Following Raisi’s death, Iranian Vice President Muhammad Mukhbar becomes acting president with the approval of Khamenei, according to Article 131 of the Iranian Constitution. New elections will be held within 50 days.

During Raisi’s tenure, there have been outbreaks of domestic unrest, including a series of nationwide protests that began in September 2022 after the death of a young woman who was in police custody for not adhering to the country’s mandatory headscarf laws for women. In addition, insurgent organizations have struck within the country, with the Islamic State militant group claiming responsibility in January for the deadliest attack in the Islamic Republic’s 45-year history as ISIS seeks to achieve a global resurgence.

In an address delivered as the search and rescue effort for Raisi and his entourage was underway on Sunday, Khamenei said that “the nation doesn’t need to be worried or anxious, as the administration of the country will not be disrupted at all.”

Newsweek is committed to challenging conventional wisdom and finding connections in the search for common ground.

Newsweek is committed to challenging conventional wisdom and finding connections in the search for common ground.

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