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Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi was involved in a helicopter crash on Sunday, with his condition remaining unclear. The crash occurred in East Azerbaijan, near the border with Azerbaijan, where Raisi was inaugurating a dam. Search efforts were hampered by harsh weather and heavy fog in the area. At least 40 rescue teams, including drones and search dogs, were dispatched, but air rescue was prevented by the fog. The helicopter belonged to the Iranian Red Crescent and was part of a larger convoy including Iran’s foreign minister and the governor of East Azerbaijan.

Reports indicated that a signal from the helicopter and a crew member’s cellphone were received at the crash site, offering hope for the rescue team. Iranian state media showed Red Crescent rescuers navigating through dense fog with low visibility, attempting to reach the rural forest where the helicopter was believed to have crashed. Although Raisi’s condition was unknown, worried Iranians began offering prayers for his safety. In the event of Raisi’s death, Iran’s First Vice President Mohammad Mokhber would be next in line for the presidency after receiving approval from Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

The Qiz Qalasi Dam, where Raisi was inaugurating, is the third dam jointly built by Iran and Azerbaijan and took nearly two decades to complete. International sanctions have posed challenges for Iran in obtaining helicopter parts, with most military helicopters dating back to before the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Raisi, under U.S. sanctions for his involvement in mass executions of political prisoners in 1988, was re-elected as the president in 2021 with a low voter turnout. As a hard-liner and former judiciary leader, Raisi is seen as a likely successor to Ayatollah Khamenei.

The death of Mahsa Amini in police custody triggered widespread protests in Iran two years ago, leading to a violent government crackdown. In an interview with NBC News, Raisi defended the government’s response, suggesting that those trying to destabilize the Islamic Republic would face consequences. Raisi’s accident has raised concerns about the political implications in Iran, as the uncertainty surrounding his condition has triggered prayers and support from citizens across the country. The search efforts continue amidst challenging weather conditions, with hope for a successful rescue of those onboard the helicopter.

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