Raisi honoured as a ‘martyr’

People attend a funeral ceremony for the late Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi in Tabriz in East Azerbaijan Province, Iran on Tuesday.

People attend a funeral ceremony for the late Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi in Tabriz in East Azerbaijan Province, Iran on Tuesday.

Published May 22, 2024


Tens of thousands mourned Iran’s president Ebrahim Raisi on Tuesday after his death in a helicopter crash, amid political uncertainty ahead of an election for his successor next month.

Raisi and seven members of his entourage, including foreign minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, were killed when their aircraft came down on a fog-shrouded mountainside in northern Iran on Sunday.

Waving Iranian flags and portraits of the late president, mourners marched from a central square in the north-western city of Tabriz, where Raisi’s helicopter had been headed when it crashed. Black-clad mourners beat their chests as they walked behind a lorry carrying the coffins of Raisi and those who died with him.

“We, the members of the government, who had the honour to serve this beloved president, the hard-working president, pledge to our dear people and leader to follow the path of these martyrs,” Interior Minister Ahmad Vahidi said in a speech.

From Tabriz, Raisi’s body will be flown to the Shia clerical centre of Qom before being moved to Tehran, where huge banners hailing him as “the martyr of service” have appeared around the city.

Contact with Raisi’s helicopter was lost in bad weather during the return flight to Tabriz after the inauguration of a joint dam project on Iran’s border with Azerbaijan, in a ceremony with his Azeri counterpart Ilham Aliyev.

A huge search-and-rescue operation was launched, and state television announced confirmation of his death early on Monday.

Over pictures of Raisi and as a voice recited verses from the Qur’an, the broadcaster said “the servant of the Iranian nation, Ayatollah Ebrahim Raisi, has achieved the highest level of martyrdom”.

Provincial officials, members of Raisi’s security team and the helicopter crew also died in the crash.

Armed forces chief of staff Mohammad Bagheri ordered an investigation into the crash.

Tens of thousands of people gathered in the capital’s Valiasr Square on Monday to mourn those who died.

On Tuesday, the Assembly of Experts, a key clerical body in charge of selecting or dismissing Iran’s supreme leader, held its first session since being elected in March, with the seat reserved for Raisi carrying his portrait.

Raisi, who was widely expected to succeed current supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, had been a member of the body since 2006.

Khamenei wields ultimate authority in Iran and has declared five days of national mourning. He has assigned vice-president Mohammad Mokhber, 68, as caretaker president until next month’s election for Raisi’s successor.

The election will be held on June 28. Iran’s top nuclear negotiator, Ali Bagheri, who was Amir-Abdollahian’s deputy, has been named acting foreign minister.

A ceremony for the crash victims was to be held ahead of processions in the capital today before Khamenei leads prayers at a farewell ceremony.

Countries including Türkiye and Russia have announced that they will send representatives to the funeral.

Raisi’s body will be flown from Tehran to his home city of Mashhad, where he will be buried on Thursday evening after funeral rites at the Imam Reza shrine.

Raisi, 63, was elected president in 2021. The ultra-conservative’s time in office saw mass protests, a deepening economic crisis and unprecedented armed exchanges with arch-enemy Israel.

Raisi succeeded the moderate Hassan Rouhani at a time when the economy was battered by US sanctions imposed over Iran’s nuclear activities.

Messages of condolence flooded in from Iran’s allies, including Syria, Palestinian militant group Hamas and Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, both of which are backed by Tehran.

It was an unprecedented Hamas attack on Israel that sparked the devastating war in the Gaza Strip, now in its eighth month, and soaring tensions between Israel and the “resistance axis” led by Iran. Israel’s presumed killing of seven Revolutionary Guards in a drone strike on the Iranian consulate in Damascus on April 1 triggered Iran’s first direct attack on Israel, involving hundreds of missiles and drones.

In a speech hours before his death, Raisi underlined Iran’s support for the Palestinians, a centrepiece of its foreign policy since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Palestinian flags have flown alongside Iranian flags at ceremonies held for the late president.

Israeli officials reportedly told US media this week that Israel was not involved in the Iranian president’s death.

But Michael Maloof, a retired US security policy analyst, said Israel had a history of alleged clandestine operations inside Iran, including the bombing of pipelines, the murder of nuclear scientists and the recent response from Israel to an Iranian attack which Iran says was carried out from within its territory.

Cape Times