x

WORLD

Iran’s Supreme Leader Prays for Late President and Others Killed in Helicopter Crash

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Iran’s supreme leader prayed Wednesday over the coffins of the country’s late president, foreign minister and other officials who were killed in a helicopter crash earlier this week. Later, hundreds of thousands of people followed a procession honoring the dead down Tehran’s main boulevard.

Iran’s Shiite theocracy views mass demonstrations as crucial evidence of its legitimacy and the people’s support.

Still, Wednesday’s funeral service for President Ebrahim Raisi and others saw a turnout that onlookers described as noticeably lower than the 2020 procession honoring Revolutionary Guard general Qassem Soleimani, who was killed in a U.S. drone strike in Baghdad.

Many of the participants said they came to Tehran for the ceremony from other cities and towns across the Islamic Republic, an indication of how those in Iran’s capital viewed Raisi, who won the presidency in a record low turnout and later oversaw repeated crackdowns on all dissent — including in the wake of the 2022 death of Mahsa Amini that sparked street protests over Iran’s mandatory hijab, or headscarf.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who openly wept for Soleimani, also remained composed while reciting the standard prayer for the dead.

In this photo released by the office of the Iranian supreme leader, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, center with black turban, leads a prayer over the flag-draped coffins of the late President Ebrahim Raisi and his companions who were killed in a helicopter crash on Sunday in a mountainous region of the country’s northwest, at the Tehran University campus, during a funeral ceremony for them in Tehran, Iran, Wednesday, May 22, 2024. (Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP)

“Oh Allah, we didn’t see anything but good from him,” Khamenei said in Arabic, the language of Islam’s holy book, the Quran. He soon left and the crowd inside rushed to the front, reaching out to touch the coffins. Iran’s acting president, Mohammad Mokhber, stood nearby and openly cried.

The death of Raisi, Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian and six others in the crash on Sunday comes at a politically sensitive moment for Iran, both at home and abroad.

Raisi, who was 63, had been discussed as a possible successor to Iran’s supreme leader, the 85-year-old Khamenei. None of Iran’s living past presidents — other than Khamenei, who was president from 1981 until 1989 — could be seen in state television footage of Wednesday’s prayers. The authorities gave no explanation for their apparent absence.

Following the deadly helicopter crash, Iran set June 28 as the next presidential election. For now, there’s no clear favorite for the position among Iran’s political elite — particularly no one who is a Shiite cleric, like Raisi.

During Raisi’s term in office, Iran launched an unprecedented attack on Israel last month as its war on Hamas in the Gaza Strip rages on. Iran has supported Hamas throughout the war and provided weaponry to the militants.

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh attended the prayers Wednesday morning, just two days after the International Criminal Court’s prosecutor said he’d seek an arrest warrant for him and others over the Oct. 7 attack that sparked the latest Israel-Hamas war. In the unprecedented assault on southern Israel, Hamas-led militants killed 1,200 people and seized 250 hostage.

The ICC prosecutor is also seeking arrest warrants for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant for their conduct in the war, which has seen more than 35,000 Palestinians killed in the Gaza Strip and also hundreds in the West Bank.

Iranians attend a funeral ceremony for the late President Ebrahim Raisi and his companions who were killed in a helicopter crash on Sunday in a mountainous region of the country’s northwest, in Tehran, Iran, Wednesday, May 22, 2024. Iran’s supreme leader presided over the funeral Wednesday for the country’s late president, foreign minister and others killed in the helicopter crash, as tens of thousands later followed a procession of their caskets through the capital, Tehran. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

Haniyeh recounted meeting Raisi earlier this year in Tehran during Ramadan, the holy Muslim fasting month, and heard the president say the Palestinian issue remains the key one for the Muslim world. He also described Raisi calling the Oct. 7 attack an “earthquake in the heart of the Zionist entity.”

Haniyeh’s presence at the funeral likely signaled Khamenei intends to continue his policy of arming militant groups in the wider Mideast — including Hamas, Lebanon’s Hezbollah and Yemen’s Houthi rebels — as a way to pressure its adversaries like Israel and the United States.

Mourners at the ceremony chanted: “Death to Israel!”

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and a delegation from the Taliban of Afghanistan, including their Foreign Minister Amir Khan Mutaqqi are expected to attend services in Tehran on Wednesday afternoon. Iraq’s Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani also flew in for the ceremony, along with Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan.

Even Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry traveled to Tehran, despite diplomatic relations between the countries being severed after the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Egypt and Iran have recently discussed reestablishing ties.

A single black turban was placed on top of Raisi’s casket during the morning service, which signifies he was considered a direct descendent of Islam’s Prophet Muhammad. People then carried the coffins out on their shoulders as chants of “Death to America!” erupted outside. The coffins were loaded onto a semitruck trailer for a procession through downtown Tehran to Azadi, or “Freedom,” Square.

People openly wept and beat their chests, a common sign of grief in the Shiite culture. They tossed scarves and other possessions up to the semitruck driving the caskets through Tehran, with coffin attendants brushing the items against the caskets in a gesture of blessing.

One man said he and his friends took a nearly seven-hour bus trip to attend the procession. Many expressed their sympathies for the dead, including Raisi.

“He was our president, the others were pilots and a minister, how can I be indifferent about their loss?” asked Sima Rahmani, a 27-year-old Tehran woman wearing a loose headscarf despite the risk of detention by police.

Prosecutors have warned people against showing any public signs of celebrating Raisi’s death and a heavy security force presence has been seen on the streets of Tehran since the crash. Many shops and stores noticeably remained open in Tehran during the ceremony, while some took off early for a long weekend.

“I did not vote for Raisi in 2021 election, but he was the president of all people,” said Morteza Nemati, a 28-year-old physics student at Tehran Azad University. “My presence is a way of paying tribute to him.”

Meanwhile, an Iranian official offered a new accounting of Sunday’s crash, further fueling the theory that bad weather had led to it. Gholamhossein Esmaili, who traveled in one of the two other helicopters in Raisi’s entourage, told state TV that weather had been fine when the aircraft took off. But Raisi’s helicopter disappeared into heavy clouds and the others couldn’t reach the aircraft by radio.

Neither Amirabdollahian nor a bodyguard on board responded to calls. But Friday prayer leader from the city of Tabriz, Mohammad Ali Ale-Hashem, who was also on board, somehow answered two mobile phone calls, saying he was hurt, Esmaili said.

It wasn’t clear why Iran could not at that point track the phone signal.

“The conditions of the bodies found showed that they (died) immediately after the incident,” Esmaili said. “But Ayatollah Ale-Hashem (died) a few hours after the incident. He was alive for a short period.”

___
By JON GAMBRELL Associated Press

Associated Press writers Nasser Karimi in Tehran, Iran; Joseph Krauss in Dubai, United Arab Emirates; Samy Magdy in Cairo; and Munir Ahmed and Riazat Butt in Islamabad contributed to this report.

RELATED

Top Stories

Columnists

A pregnant woman was driving in the HOV lane near Dallas.

General News

NEW YORK – Meropi Kyriacou, the new Principal of The Cathedral School in Manhattan, was honored as The National Herald’s Educator of the Year.

Video

It’s Not as World-Famous as Ramen or Sushi. But the Humble Onigiri is Soul Food in Japan

TOKYO (AP) — The word “onigiri” became part of the Oxford English Dictionary this year, proof that the humble sticky-rice ball and mainstay of Japanese food has entered the global lexicon.

NEW JERSEY – The Hellenic Federation of New Jersey held its 11th Annual Awards Gala on June 23 at the Greek-owned catering hall The Graycliff.

LEIPZIG, Germany  — Italy substitute Mattia Zaccagni scored in the last minute of stoppage time for Italy to advance to the knockout stage of the European Championship after drawing Croatia 1-1 on Monday.

DUESSELDORF, Germany  — Spain changed almost its entire lineup and still kept up its victorious start to the European Championship with a 1-0 win over Albania, which was eliminated on Monday.

ATHENS, Greece  — Greece on Monday accused neighboring North Macedonia’s new center-right government of breaking a historic deal on the country’s name, warning that this could harm its hopes of one day joining the European Union.

Enter your email address to subscribe

Provide your email address to subscribe. For e.g. [email protected]

You may unsubscribe at any time using the link in our newsletter.