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Helicopter with Iran president Raisi suffers ‘hard landing,’ state TV says

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — A helicopter carrying Iranian President Ebrahim Raïssi suffered a “hard landing” on Sunday, Iranian state media reported, without further details. Some began urging the public to pray for Raisi and others on board as rescue teams passed through a foggy rural forest where his helicopter was likely located.

The probable accident occurs while Iran under Raisi and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei launched an unprecedented drone and missile attack on Israel last month and enriched uranium closer to weapons-grade levels than ever before. Meanwhile, Iran faces years of massive protests against its Shiite theocracy over a struggling economy and women’s rights – making the moment all the more sensitive for Tehran and the future of the country that the war between Israel and Hamas is inflaming the Middle East as a whole.

Raisi was traveling in the Iranian province of East Azerbaijan. State television said the incident occurred near Jolfa, a border town with Azerbaijan, about 600 kilometers (375 miles) northwest of the Iranian capital, Tehran. State television later reported it further east, near the village of Uzi, but the details remained conflicting.

Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian, the governor of Iran’s East Azerbaijan province and other officials and bodyguards were traveling with Raisi, the official IRNA news agency reported. A local government official used the word “crash” to describe the incident, but admitted to an Iranian newspaper that he had not yet reached the site itself.

Neither IRNA nor state television provided information on Raisi’s condition in the hours that followed. However, hardliners urged the public to pray for him. State television then broadcast images of worshipers praying at the Imam Reza shrine in the city of Mashhad, one of Shiite Islam’s holiest sites, as well as in Qom and other locations. from the country.

“The esteemed President and his company were on their way back in helicopters and one of the helicopters was forced to make a hard landing due to bad weather and fog,” the Minister of Defense said. Interior Ahmad Vahidi in remarks broadcast on state television. “Several rescue teams are on their way to the area, but due to bad weather and fog, it may take time for them to reach the helicopter. »

He adds: “The area is a bit (rugged) and it is difficult to make contact. We are waiting for rescue teams to arrive at the landing site and give us more information.

Rescuers were trying to reach the site, state television said, but were hampered by poor weather conditions. Heavy rain and fog were reported with some wind. IRNA has described the region as “forest” and the region is also known to be mountainous. State television broadcast images of SUVs driving through a wooded area.

A rescue helicopter attempted to reach the area where authorities believe Raisi’s helicopter was located, but it was unable to land due to thick fog, the Raïssi spokesman told IRNA. emergency services, Babak Yektaparast.

Raisi was on the border with Azerbaijan on Sunday morning to inaugurate a dam with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev. This is the third dam built by the two nations on the Aras River. The visit took place despite cold relations between the two nations, notably over a gun attack on the Azerbaijani embassy in Tehran in 2023 and Azerbaijan’s diplomatic relations with Israel, which Iran’s Shiite theocracy considers its main enemy in the region.

Iran flies various helicopters in the country, but international sanctions make it difficult to obtain spare parts. Its military air fleet also largely dates back to before the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Raïssi, 63 years old, is a hardliner who once ran the country’s justice system. He is considered a protégé of Khamenei and some analysts have suggested he could replace the 85-year-old leader after his death or resignation.

Raissi won the 2021 Iranian presidential election, a vote that saw the lowest turnout in the history of the Islamic Republic. Raisi is sanctioned by the United States in part for 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 to levels close to weapons manufacturing and obstructs international inspections. Iran has armed Russia in its war against Ukraine and launched a massive drone and missile attack on Israel as part of its war against Hamas in the Gaza Strip. It also continued to arm proxy groups in the Middle East, such as Yemen’s Houthi rebels and Lebanon’s Hezbollah.

Meanwhile, mass protests have raged across the country for years. The most recent concerned the death of Mahsa Amini, a woman who had previously been arrested for not wearing a hijab or headscarf, to the authorities’ liking. The months-long security crackdown following the protests killed more than 500 people and led to more than 22,000 being arrested.

In March, a United Nations commission of inquiry concluded that Iran was responsible for the “physical violence” that led to Amini’s death.

The US State Department said it was “closely monitoring reports of a possible crash landing in Iran of a helicopter carrying Iran’s president and foreign minister.”

He added: “We have no further comment at this time. »

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Associated Press writer Nasser Karimi in Tehran, Iran, contributed to this report.

News Source : apnews.com
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