Published: 14:19, May 24, 2024
Last services held for Raisi, others
By Mike Gu in Hong Kong

Mourners across the nation join prayers as officials launch probe into cause of accident

A handout picture provided by the office of Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei shows him and other clerics and officials praying over the coffins of Iran's President Ebrahim Raisi and others, including Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, in Tehran on May 22, 2024. (PHOTO / AFP)

After Iranians and foreign guests paid last goodbye to President Ebrahim Raisi, he was laid to rest on May 23 in his hometown Mashhad, eastern Iran, which hosts the holy shrine of the eighth Shia imam, Imam Reza.

During a funeral ceremony at the University of Teheran, on May 22, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Al Seyyed Ali Khamenei, standing solemnly at the center of the front row of huge mourning crowds, performed prayers before the coffins of Raisi and his companions, which were wrapped in the colors of the national flag.

The prayers of the Supreme Leader were echoed by the rows of people behind him, and eventually spread across the nation and beyond on TV and online, according to Iran’s Islamic Republic News Agency, or IRNA.

Around 90 dignitaries from 60 foreign countries attended the funeral ceremonies and processions to express condolences over the passing of Raisi and his entourage including Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, Iran’s Mehr News Agency (MNA) reported.

The dignitaries included the Emir of Qatar, the national leader of Turkmenistan, the presidents of Tunisia, and Tajikistan, and the prime ministers of Iraq, Pakistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Syria.

Chinese President Xi Jinping’s special representative, Vice-Premier Zhang Guoqing, attended the memorial service in Teheran on May 22.

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh attended the prayers on May 22 morning, Iran International Newsroom said. Iran proclaimed five days of mourning for Raisi and others.

In the capital, huge banners have gone up among huge crowds of mourners hailing the late president as “the martyr of service”. Some Jewish rabbis were also seeen attending the Teheran services.

The mourners were carrying photos of the late president, and banners, with one reading, “It is the day of mourning”, while another said, “It’s an honor that I voted for a martyr.”

“I was sad, I came to calm my heart and calm the heart of the Supreme Leader,” one mourner who gave her name only as Maryam told Agence France-Presse and said she had traveled from Varamin, south of Teheran, to pay her last respects.

On the fateful day of May 19, while returning from the inauguration of Qiz Qalasi Dam, a joint Iran-Azerbaijan project, Raisi’s helicopter, which was flying along with two other helicopters, suddenly disappeared while they were trying to avoid clouds.

After the accident in the mountains, Iran’s presidential chief of staff managed to contact one of the victims, Tabriz Friday prayer leader Seyyed Mohammad Ali Ale-Hashem, who succumbed to his injuries hours later, according to Iranian news agencies.

In an interview with Iranian state TV, Gholamhossein Esmaili, who was traveling in one of the two helicopters in Raisi’s entourage, said the helicopters were trying to avoid the clouds before the tragedy occurred.

Esmaili said the helicopters had taken off at around 1 pm local time on May 19 when weather conditions were normal, the IRNA reported.

After 45 minutes into the flight, the pilot of the president’s helicopter ordered other helicopters to increase altitude to avoid nearby clouds, Esmaili said. Below them was the Dizmar forest area, nestled between the cities of Varzaqan and Jolfa in East Azerbaijan Province.

However, “after 30 seconds of flying over the clouds, our pilot noticed the helicopter in the middle had disappeared”, he said.

Esmaili’s pilot circled and returned to search for the president’s helicopter, only to find their view affected by poor weather conditions, the MNA reported.

Several attempts to contact the president’s helicopter through radio devices proved futile. The other two helicopters continued their flight and landed at a nearby copper mine.

Sadly, neither Iranian Foreign Minister Amir-Abdollahian nor the head of the president’s guard unit responded to repeated calls afterward, Esmaili told the media.

Suddenly, the voice of prayer leader Ale-Hashem, came in when the pilots of the two other helicopters tried to contact Captain Seyed Taher Mostafavi, who was in charge of the president’s helicopter.

The prayer leader, who managed to take the call, was apparently not in a good situation but revealed the copter had gone down into a valley, Esmaili added.

Soon after, Esmaili himself made a second contact with Ale-Hashem and received the same replies about the situation.

Yet heavy fog and rains prevented the rescuers from locating the exact spot immediately, according to the MNA.

Iran has assigned a high-ranking delegation to investigate the helicopter crash in which Raisi and other senior officials were killed, the IRNA announced on May 20.

The investigation group was assigned by General Mohammad Bagheri, Chief of Staff of the Iranian Armed Forces. The delegation, headed by Brigadier Ali Abdollahi, has been dispatched to the site of the incident and the investigation has already begun.

The results of the investigations will be announced later when the mission is completed, the IRNA said.

Xinhua and agencies contributed to this story.

mikegu@chinadailyhk.com