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Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi Dies in Helicopter Crash

TEHRAN, IRAN - JUNE 18: Ebrahim Raisi, a candidate in Iran's presidential elections waves to the media after casting his vote at a polling station on June 18, 2021, on the day of the Islamic republic's presidential election. The country's incumbent president, Hassan Rouhani, is ineligible to run again after serving two terms in office. (Photo by Majid Saeedi/Getty Images)

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, a close ally of the country’s supreme leader, has died at the age of 63 in a helicopter crash. The crash, which occurred in northwestern Iran on Sunday, also claimed the lives of Iran’s foreign minister and other officials.

Raisi’s sudden death comes at a time when Iran is grappling with internal unrest and challenging international relations. Known for his hard-line stance, Raisi was involved in the mass executions of thousands in 1988 and later played a significant role in Iran’s uranium enrichment program and a major drone-and-missile attack on Israel.

Raisi, a cleric, often spoke like a preacher on the world stage. He lost the 2017 presidential election to moderate Hassan Rouhani but won the presidency in 2021 in a tightly controlled vote overseen by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. His tenure followed the collapse of Rouhani’s nuclear deal with world powers after the U.S. withdrawal from the accord under President Donald Trump.

Despite expressing a desire to rejoin the nuclear deal, Raisi’s administration resisted international inspections amid suspected Israeli sabotage of Iran’s nuclear program. Talks to restore the accord stalled early in his presidency.

In 2021, Raisi addressed the United Nations, condemning U.S. sanctions as a form of warfare. His leadership faced significant challenges, including mass protests in 2022 following the death of Mahsa Amini, a woman detained for allegedly not wearing a hijab properly. The crackdown on protests resulted in over 500 deaths and more than 22,000 arrests.

Raisi’s rise to power was marked by his appointment as head of Iran’s judiciary in 2019 and his leadership of the Imam Reza charity foundation, a significant and secretive entity within Iran’s economy. His appointment by Khamenei led to speculation that Raisi was being groomed as a potential successor to the supreme leader.

Raisi’s background includes his involvement in the 1988 executions, where he served on commissions that conducted summary trials and executions of political prisoners and militants. Despite international condemnation, Raisi defended his actions as a prosecutor.

Born on December 14, 1960, in Mashhad, Raisi came from a family claiming descent from Islam’s Prophet Muhammad. He is survived by his wife and two daughters.

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