Suicide Bomber Breaches High Security, Kills 59 in Pakistani Mosque

Army soldiers and police officers clear the way for ambulances rushing toward a bomb explosion site, at the main entry gate of police offices, in Peshawar, Pakistan, Monday, Jan. 30, 2023. (AP)
Army soldiers and police officers clear the way for ambulances rushing toward a bomb explosion site, at the main entry gate of police offices, in Peshawar, Pakistan, Monday, Jan. 30, 2023. (AP)
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Suicide Bomber Breaches High Security, Kills 59 in Pakistani Mosque

Army soldiers and police officers clear the way for ambulances rushing toward a bomb explosion site, at the main entry gate of police offices, in Peshawar, Pakistan, Monday, Jan. 30, 2023. (AP)
Army soldiers and police officers clear the way for ambulances rushing toward a bomb explosion site, at the main entry gate of police offices, in Peshawar, Pakistan, Monday, Jan. 30, 2023. (AP)

A suicide bomber blew himself up inside a crowded mosque in a highly fortified security compound in Pakistan on Monday, killing 59 people, the latest attack by resurgent extremist militants targeting police in the unstable country.

Police said the attacker appeared to have passed through several barricades manned by security forces to get into the "Red Zone" compound that houses police and counter-terrorism offices in the volatile northwestern city of Peshawar.

"It was a suicide bombing," Peshawar Police Chief Ijaz Khan told Reuters. At least 176 people were wounded, he said, many of them critically.

It came a day before an International Monetary Fund team mission to Islamabad to initiate talks on unlocking funding for the South Asian economy hit by a balance of payment crisis.

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif condemned the attack.

Officials said the bomber detonated his load at the moment hundreds of people lined up to say their prayers.

"We have found traces of explosives," Khan told reporters, adding that a security lapse had clearly occurred as the bomber had slipped through the most secured area of the compound.

An inquiry was under way into how the attacker breached such an elite security cordon and whether there was any inside help.

Khan said the mosque hall was packed with up to 400 worshippers, and that most of the dead were police officers.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack, the worst in Peshawar since March 2022 when an ISIS suicide bombing killed at least 58 people in a mosque during Friday prayers.

Defense Minister Khawaja Asif told Geo TV that the bomber was standing in the first row of worshippers.

"As the prayer leader said 'Allah is the greatest', there was a big bang," Mushtaq Khan, a policeman with a head wound, told reporters from his hospital bed.

"We couldn't figure out what happened as the bang was deafening. It threw me out of the veranda. The walls and roof fell on me. Thanks to God, he saved me."

The explosion brought down the upper storey of the mosque, trapping dozens of worshippers in the rubble. Live TV footage showed rescuers cutting through the collapsed rooftop to make their way down and tend to victims caught in the wreckage.

"We can't say how many are still under it," said provincial governor Haji Ghulam Ali.

"The sheer scale of the human tragedy is unimaginable," Sharif said. "This is no less than an attack on Pakistan. The nation is overwhelmed by a deep sense of grief. I have no doubt terrorism is our foremost national security challenge."

Witnesses described chaotic scenes as the police and the rescuers scrambled to rush the wounded to hospitals.

Sharif, who appealed to employees of his party to donate blood at the hospitals, said anyone targeting Muslims during prayer had nothing to do with Islam.

"The US mission in Pakistan expressed deepest condolences to the families and loved ones of the victims of the horrific attack," Washington's embassy said a statement.

Peshawar, which straddles the edge of Pakistan's tribal districts bordering Taliban-ruled Afghanistan, is frequently targeted by extremist militant groups including ISIS and the Pakistani Taliban.



Iran’s Mokhber Appointed President, Kani Becomes Acting FM

FILE PHOTO: Iran's First Vice President Mohammad Mokhber welcomes Oman's Sultan Haitham bin Tariq (not pictured) upon his arrival at Mehrabad Airport in Tehran, Iran May 28, 2023. Majid Asgaripour/WANA (West Asia News Agency) via REUTERS
FILE PHOTO: Iran's First Vice President Mohammad Mokhber welcomes Oman's Sultan Haitham bin Tariq (not pictured) upon his arrival at Mehrabad Airport in Tehran, Iran May 28, 2023. Majid Asgaripour/WANA (West Asia News Agency) via REUTERS
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Iran’s Mokhber Appointed President, Kani Becomes Acting FM

FILE PHOTO: Iran's First Vice President Mohammad Mokhber welcomes Oman's Sultan Haitham bin Tariq (not pictured) upon his arrival at Mehrabad Airport in Tehran, Iran May 28, 2023. Majid Asgaripour/WANA (West Asia News Agency) via REUTERS
FILE PHOTO: Iran's First Vice President Mohammad Mokhber welcomes Oman's Sultan Haitham bin Tariq (not pictured) upon his arrival at Mehrabad Airport in Tehran, Iran May 28, 2023. Majid Asgaripour/WANA (West Asia News Agency) via REUTERS

Iran’s supreme leader has appointed First Vice President Mohammad Mokhber as the country’s acting president after a helicopter crash killed President Ebrahim Raisi.
Ali Khamenei made the announcement in a condolence message he shared for Raisi’s death in the crash Sunday. The helicopter was found Monday in northwestern Iran.
Khamenei also announced five days of mourning in the message.

Mokhber now has a maximum period of 50 days to hold elections, Iran's official news agency IRNA reported.

Iran's government cabinet also appointed on Monday Deputy Foreign Minister Ali Bagheri Kani as acting foreign minister following the death of Hossein Amirabdollahian in the same helicopter crash.


World Leaders Express Condolences to Iran over President's Death

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi waves upon his arrival at Bandaranaike International Airport in Colombo, Sri Lanka, 24 April 2024 (reissued 20 May 2024). EPA/CHAMILA KARUNARATHNE
Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi waves upon his arrival at Bandaranaike International Airport in Colombo, Sri Lanka, 24 April 2024 (reissued 20 May 2024). EPA/CHAMILA KARUNARATHNE
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World Leaders Express Condolences to Iran over President's Death

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi waves upon his arrival at Bandaranaike International Airport in Colombo, Sri Lanka, 24 April 2024 (reissued 20 May 2024). EPA/CHAMILA KARUNARATHNE
Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi waves upon his arrival at Bandaranaike International Airport in Colombo, Sri Lanka, 24 April 2024 (reissued 20 May 2024). EPA/CHAMILA KARUNARATHNE

World leaders on Monday reacted to the death of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi who was killed in a helicopter crash in mountainous terrain near Azerbaijan border.
Raisi, a hardliner long seen as a potential successor to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, and the country’s foreign minister and others have been found dead at the site of a helicopter crash Monday after an hourslong search through a foggy, mountainous region of the country’s northwest, state media reported. Raisi was 63.
Several world leaders reacted to his death, the following are reactions to the news:
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on X platform: "Deeply saddened and shocked by the tragic demise of Dr. Seyed Ebrahim Raisi, President of the Islamic Republic of Iran. His contribution to strengthening India-Iran bilateral relationship will always be remembered. My heartfelt condolences to his family and the people of Iran. India stands with Iran in this time of sorrow."
Türkiye’s Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan said: "From the first moment we heard of the accident, we have been in contact with the Iranian authorities and mobilized all means to assist (rescue) efforts. Relevant institutions including our Defense Ministry and AFAD disaster authority did their best but unfortunately we weren't able to hear good news," Fidan told a joint news conference on Monday with his Pakistani counterpart Ishaq Dar in Islamabad.
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan expressed his condolences saying Raisi was a "valuable colleague and brother".
"As a colleague who personally witnessed his efforts for the peace of the Iranian people and our region during his time in power, I remember Mr. Raisi with respect and gratitude," Erdogan said on social media platform X, adding Türkiye stood by Iran in this difficult time.
Pakistan’s President Asif Ali Zardari in a statement also expressed shock and sorrow over Raisi's death. He extended his condolences to the bereaved families of the Iranian president, the foreign minister and others who died in the accident.
Pakistan’s Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif has announced a day of mourning over the death of Raisi.
“I along with the government and people of Pakistan, extend our deepest condolences and sympathies to the Iranian nation on this terrible loss. May the martyred souls rest in heavenly peace. The great Iranian nation will overcome this tragedy with customary courage,” Sharif wrote on the social platform X on Monday.
Sharif recently hosted Raisi and Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian when they visited Pakistan and said: “They were good friends of Pakistan."
The Chinese foreign ministry said that President Xi Jinping has expressed condolences over Raisi's death.
Charles Michel, President of the European Council, said on X: “The European Union expresses its sincere condolences for the death of President Raisi and Foreign Minister Abdollahian, as well as other members of their delegation and crew in a helicopter accident. Our thoughts go to the families."
Russian foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in a statement that Raisi and Abdollahian were known as "true, reliable friends of our country".
"Their role in strengthening mutually beneficial Russian-Iranian cooperation and trusting partnership is invaluable.
"We sincerely extend our condolences to the families and friends of the victims, as well as to the entire friendly people of Iran. Our thoughts and hearts are with you in this sad hour."
Japan’s government spokesperson, Yoshimasa Hayashi said that Japan expresses its deepest condolences to the government and people of Iran over the death of President Raisi and the foreign minister.


Protestors Block New Caledonia Roads as French Police Pour in

A burnt vehicle is seen in the Normandy industrial zone in Noumea, France's Pacific territory of New Caledonia, on May 20, 2024. (Photo by Theo Rouby / AFP)
A burnt vehicle is seen in the Normandy industrial zone in Noumea, France's Pacific territory of New Caledonia, on May 20, 2024. (Photo by Theo Rouby / AFP)
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Protestors Block New Caledonia Roads as French Police Pour in

A burnt vehicle is seen in the Normandy industrial zone in Noumea, France's Pacific territory of New Caledonia, on May 20, 2024. (Photo by Theo Rouby / AFP)
A burnt vehicle is seen in the Normandy industrial zone in Noumea, France's Pacific territory of New Caledonia, on May 20, 2024. (Photo by Theo Rouby / AFP)

A thousand police arrived in New Caledonia from France and streets were relatively calm, the French High Commission said on Monday, but roads were blocked and the airport remained shut, stranding tourists on the Pacific island after a week of riots.

The activist group organizing the protests in the French-ruled territory, Field Action Co-ordination Cell (CCAT), said in a statement on Monday blockades would continue, urging protestors to use a peaceful approach.

Roadblocks were making it difficult to supply food to stores in several areas and provide secure travel for medical staff, Reuters quoted New Caledonia government officials as saying.

"It's important to point out that the problem is not so much a lack of staff, medical and food supplies but more importantly an access problem," a government statement said.

France's top official in the territory, Louis Le Franc, said on Sunday evening a police operation to regain control of the road from the capital Noumea to the international airport would take several days. Gendarmes had dismantled 76 road blocks.
There are around 3,200 people stuck waiting to leave or enter New Caledonia as commercial flights have been cancelled due to the unrest that broke out last week, the local government said.
The protests were sparked by anger among indigenous Kanak people over a constitutional amendment approved in France that will change who is allowed to participate in elections, which local leaders fear will dilute the Kanak vote.
Six people have been killed and the unrest has left a trail of burnt businesses, torched cars, looted shops, and road barricades, cutting off access to medicine and food.
Three of those killed were indigenous Kanak youths and two were police officers. A sixth person was killed on Saturday during a gun battle between two groups at a roadblock, French police said.
The business chamber said 150 companies had been looted and burnt.
Pro-independence political parties said they want the French government to withdraw the electoral reform before they restart talks.


New Taiwanese President Calls on China to Stop Its Threats

Taiwan's new President William Lai Ching-te (right) waves alongside outgoing President Tsai Ing-wen during the inauguration ceremony (Sam Yeh/ AFP)
Taiwan's new President William Lai Ching-te (right) waves alongside outgoing President Tsai Ing-wen during the inauguration ceremony (Sam Yeh/ AFP)
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New Taiwanese President Calls on China to Stop Its Threats

Taiwan's new President William Lai Ching-te (right) waves alongside outgoing President Tsai Ing-wen during the inauguration ceremony (Sam Yeh/ AFP)
Taiwan's new President William Lai Ching-te (right) waves alongside outgoing President Tsai Ing-wen during the inauguration ceremony (Sam Yeh/ AFP)

Taiwan President Lai Ching-te asked China on Monday to stop its military and political threats, saying in his inauguration speech that peace is the only choice and that Beijing had to respect the choice of the Taiwanese people.
Lai, addressing the crowd outside the Japanese-colonial-era presidential office in central Taipei, repeated a call for talks with China, which views the proudly democratic island as its own territory and has never renounced the use of force to bring it under Beijing's control, Reuters said.
"I also want to urge China to stop intimidating Taiwan politically and militarily, and to take on the global responsibility with Taiwan to work hard on maintaining peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait and in the region, to ensure the world is without the fear of war breaking out," he said. "We also want to declare this to the world: Taiwan makes no concessions on democracy and freedom. Peace is the only option and prosperity is our goal for long-term peace and stability."
There was no immediate reaction from China, which repeatedly called Lai a "separatist" risking war in the run-up to his election in January.
Taiwan has faced pressure from China, including regular air force and navy activities near the island, since the election victory by Lai, 64, who is widely known by his English name, William.
Lai, who took over from Tsai Ing-wen having served as her vice president for the past four years, said people must be realistic about the threat and Taiwan must show its determination to defend itself.
"Fellow citizens, we have the ideal to pursue peace, but we must not have illusions," he said. "Before China gives up using force to invade Taiwan, citizens must understand this: Even if we accept all of China's claims and give up our sovereignty, China's ambition to annex Taiwan will not disappear."
Lai received loud applause after reiterating that the Republic of China - Taiwan's formal name - and the People's Republic of China are "not subordinate to each other", a line Tsai also took.
Taiwan's defense ministry, in its daily report on Monday about Chinese military activities in the previous 24 hours, said six Chinese aircraft had crossed the Taiwan Strait's median line, which previously served as an unofficial boundary but that China says it does not recognise.
At least one of the aircraft got within 43 nautical miles (80 km) of the northern Taiwanese port city of Keelung, according to a map provided by the ministry.
In attendance at the ceremony are former US officials dispatched by President Joe Biden, lawmakers from countries including Japan, Germany and Canada, and leaders from some of the 12 countries that still maintain formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan, such as Paraguay President Santiago Pena.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken congratulated Lai, saying the United States looked forward to working with him "to advance our shared interests and values, deepen our longstanding unofficial relationship, and maintain peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait".
FIGHTER JETS AND SING-ALONGS
Taiwanese fighter jets flew in formation over Taipei after Lai's speech.
At the end of the ceremony, Lai and Vice President Hsiao Bi-khim, formerly Taiwan's de facto ambassador to the United States, led the crowd in a sing-along to pop songs as they danced onstage with the other performers.
Lai wore a purple tie, representing a butterfly native to Taiwan, and a yellow pin on his lapel of mustard flowers, a common plant in fields across the island.
He received seals symbolizing his presidential power from the parliament speaker, including the seal of Republic of China and the seal of honor, both brought to Taiwan after the Republican government fled to Taiwan in 1949 after losing the Chinese civil war to Mao Zedong's Communists.
Late Sunday, widely read state-backed Chinese newspaper the Global Times said Lai could become "more and more provocative" once he takes office.
"So in the long term, the state of cross-straits relations will not be optimistic," it said in an online commentary.
Lai's domestic challenges loom large too, given his Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) lost its parliamentary majority in the January election.
On Friday, lawmakers punched, shoved and screamed at each other in a bitter dispute over parliamentary reforms the opposition is pushing. There could be more fighting on Tuesday when lawmakers resume their discussions.


Iran's President, Foreign Minister and Others Found Dead at Helicopter Crash Site

This grab taken from handout video footage released by the IRINN Iranian state television network on May 19, 2024 shows Iran's President Ebrahim Raisi on board a helicopter in the Jofa region of the western province of East Azerbaijan. (Photo by IRINN / AFP)
This grab taken from handout video footage released by the IRINN Iranian state television network on May 19, 2024 shows Iran's President Ebrahim Raisi on board a helicopter in the Jofa region of the western province of East Azerbaijan. (Photo by IRINN / AFP)
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Iran's President, Foreign Minister and Others Found Dead at Helicopter Crash Site

This grab taken from handout video footage released by the IRINN Iranian state television network on May 19, 2024 shows Iran's President Ebrahim Raisi on board a helicopter in the Jofa region of the western province of East Azerbaijan. (Photo by IRINN / AFP)
This grab taken from handout video footage released by the IRINN Iranian state television network on May 19, 2024 shows Iran's President Ebrahim Raisi on board a helicopter in the Jofa region of the western province of East Azerbaijan. (Photo by IRINN / AFP)

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, the country’s foreign minister and others have been found dead at the site of a helicopter crash Monday after an hourslong search through a foggy, mountainous region of the country’s northwest, state media reported. Raisi was 63.
The crash comes as the Middle East remains unsettled by the Israel-Hamas war, during which Raisi under Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei launched an unprecedented drone-and-missile attack on Israel just last month. Under Raisi, Iran enriched uranium came closer than ever to weapons-grade levels, further escalating tensions with the West as Tehran also supplied bomb-carrying drones to Russia for its war in Ukraine and armed militia groups across the region, The Associated Press said.
Meanwhile, Iran has faced years of mass protests against its Shiite theocracy over its ailing economy and women’s rights – making the moment that much more sensitive for Tehran and the future of the country.
State TV gave no immediate cause for the crash in Iran’s East Azerbaijan province. Among the dead was Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian, 60.
With Raisi were Iran’s Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian, the governor of Iran’s East Azerbaijan province and other officials and bodyguards, the state-run IRNA news agency reported.
Early Monday morning, Turkish authorities released what they described as drone footage showing what appeared to be a fire in the wilderness that they “suspected to be wreckage of a helicopter.” The coordinates listed in the footage put the fire some 20 kilometers (12 miles) south of the Azerbaijan-Iranian border on the side of a steep mountain.
Footage released by the IRNA early Monday showed what the agency described as the crash site, across a steep valley in a green mountain range. Soldiers speaking in the local Azeri language said: “There it is, we found it.”
Khamenei himself urged the public to pray Sunday night.
“We hope that God the Almighty returns the dear president and his colleagues in full health to the arms of the nation,” Khamenei said, drawing an “amen” from the worshipers he was addressing.
However, the supreme leader also stressed that the business of Iran’s government would continue no matter what. Under the Iranian constitution, Iran’s vice first president takes over if the president dies with Khamenei’s assent, and a new presidential election would be called within 50 days. First Vice President Mohammad Mokhber already had begun receiving calls from officials and foreign governments in Raisi’s absence, state media reported.
Raisi, 63, a hard-liner who formerly led the country’s judiciary, is viewed as a protégé of Khamenei and some analysts have suggested he could replace the 85-year-old leader after Khamenei’s death or resignation.
Raisi won Iran’s 2021 presidential election, a vote that saw the lowest turnout in Iran’s history. Raisi is sanctioned by the US in part over his involvement in the mass execution of thousands of political prisoners in 1988 at the end of the bloody Iran-Iraq war.
Under Raisi, Iran now enriches uranium at nearly weapons-grade levels and hampers international inspections. Iran has armed Russia in its war on Ukraine, as well as launched a massive drone-and-missile attack on Israel amid its war against Hamas in the Gaza Strip. It also has continued arming proxy groups in the Mideast, like Yemen’s Houthis and Lebanon’s Hezbollah.
Meanwhile, mass protests in the country have raged for years. The most recent involved the 2022 death of Mahsa Amini, a woman who had been earlier detained over allegedly not wearing a hijab, or headscarf, to the liking of authorities. The monthslong security crackdown that followed the demonstrations killed more than 500 people and saw over 22,000 detained.
In March, a United Nations investigative panel found that Iran was responsible for the “physical violence” that led to Amini’s death.


Who is Mohammad Mokhber, Iran's Interim President?

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi. EPA
Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi. EPA
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Who is Mohammad Mokhber, Iran's Interim President?

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi. EPA
Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi. EPA

Here are some key facts about Mohammad Mokhber, 68, Iran's first vice president who became interim president on the death of Ebrahim Raisi in a helicopter crash.
* As interim president, Mokhber is part of a three-person council, along with the speaker of parliament and the head of the judiciary, that will organize a new presidential election within 50 days of the president's death.
* Born on Sept. 1, 1955, Mokhber, like Raisi, is seen as close to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, who has the last say in all matters of state. Mokhber became first vice president in 2021 when Raisi was elected president.
* Mokhber was part of a team of Iranian officials who visited Moscow in October and agreed to supply surface-to-surface missiles and more drones to Russia's military, sources told Reuters at the time. The team also included two senior officials from Iran's Revolutionary Guards and an official from the Supreme National Security Council.
* Mokhber had previously been head of Setad, an investment fund linked to the supreme leader.
* In 2010, the European Union included Mokhber on a list of individuals and entities it was sanctioning for alleged involvement in "nuclear or ballistic missile activities". Two years later, it removed him from the list.
* In 2013, the US Treasury Department added Setad and 37 companies it oversaw to a list of sanctioned entities.
* Setad, whose full name is Setad Ejraiye Farmane Hazrate Emam, or the Headquarters for Executing the Order of the Imam, was set up under an order issued by the founder of Iran, Khamenei's predecessor, Khomeini. It ordered aides to sell and manage properties supposedly abandoned in the chaotic years after the 1979 Iranian Revolution and channel the bulk of the proceeds to charity.


Official Says Rescuers See Raisi Helicopter, 'No sign of life' at Crash Site

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi - The AP
Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi - The AP
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Official Says Rescuers See Raisi Helicopter, 'No sign of life' at Crash Site

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi - The AP
Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi - The AP

Iranian state television said Monday there is “no sign of life” seen at the crash site of a helicopter that was carrying President Ebrahim Raisi and others.
The site was across a steep valley and rescuers had yet to reach it, state media reported.

As the sun rose Monday, rescuers saw the helicopter from a distance of some 2 kilometers (1.25 miles), the head of the Iranian Red Crescent Society, Pir Hossein Kolivand, told state media, The AP reported.

He did not elaborate and the officials had been missing at that point by over 12 hours.

Raisi was traveling in Iran’s East Azerbaijan province. State TV said what it called a “hard landing” happened near Jolfa, a city on the border with the nation of Azerbaijan, some 600 kilometers (375 miles) northwest of the Iranian capital, Tehran. Later, state TV put it farther east near the village of Uzi, but details remained contradictory.

Traveling with Raisi were Iran’s Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian, the governor of Iran’s East Azerbaijan province and other officials and bodyguards, the state-run IRNA news agency reported. One local government official used the word “crash,” but others referred to either a “hard landing” or an “incident.”

Neither IRNA nor state TV offered any information on Raisi’s condition in the hours afterward.

Early Monday morning, Turkish authorities released what they described as drone footage showing what appeared to be a fire in the wilderness that they “suspected to be wreckage of helicopter.” The coordinates listed in the footage put the fire some 20 kilometers (12 miles) south of the Azerbaijan-Iranian border on the side of a steep mountain.

In comments aired on state TV, Interior Minister Ahmad Vahidi said: “The esteemed president and company were on their way back aboard some helicopters and one of the helicopters was forced to make a hard landing due to the bad weather and fog.”

“Various rescue teams are on their way to the region but because of the poor weather and fogginess it might take time for them to reach the helicopter.”

IRNA called the area a “forest” and the region is known to be mountainous as well. State TV aired images of SUVs racing through a wooded area and said they were being hampered by poor weather conditions, including heavy rain and wind. Rescuers could be seen walking in the fog and mist.

A rescue helicopter tried to reach the area where authorities believe Raisi’s helicopter was, but it couldn’t land due to heavy mist, emergency services spokesman Babak Yektaparast told IRNA. Late in the evening, the Turkish defense ministry announced that it had sent an unmanned arial vehicle and was preparing to send a helicopter with night vision capabilities to join the search-and-rescue efforts.

Long after the sun set, Iranian government spokesman Ali Bahadori Jahromi acknowledged that “we are experiencing difficult and complicated conditions” in the search.

“It is the right of the people and the media to be aware of the latest news about the president’s helicopter accident, but considering the coordinates of the incident site and the weather conditions, there is ‘no’ new news whatsoever until now,” he wrote on the social platform X. “In these moments, patience, prayer and trust in relief groups are the way forward.”

Khamenei himself also urged the public to pray.

“We hope that God the Almighty returns the dear president and his colleagues in full health to the arms of the nation,” Khamenei said, drawing an “amen” from the worshipers he was addressing.

However, the supreme leader also stressed the business of Iran’s government would continue no matter what. Under the Iranian constitution, Iran’s vice first president takes over if the president dies with Khamenei’s assent, and a new presidential election would be called within 50 days. First Vice President Mohammad Mokhber already had begun receiving calls from officials and foreign governments in Raisi’s absence, state media reported.

Raisi, 63, a hard-liner who formerly led the country’s judiciary, is viewed as a protégé of Khamenei and some analysts have suggested he could replace the 85-year-old leader after Khamenei’s death or resignation.

Raisi had been on the border with Azerbaijan early Sunday to inaugurate a dam with Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev. The dam is the third one that the two nations built on the Aras River. The visit came despite chilly relations between the two nations, including over a gun attack on Azerbaijan’s Embassy in Tehran in 2023, and Azerbaijan’s diplomatic relations with Israel, which Iran’s Shiite theocracy views as its main enemy in the region.

Iran flies a variety of helicopters in the country, but international sanctions make it difficult to obtain parts for them. Its military air fleet also largely dates back to before the 1979 Islamic Revolution. IRNA published images it described as Raisi taking off in what resembled a Bell helicopter, with a blue-and-white paint scheme previously seen in published photographs.

 

 


Iran's Cabinet Holds Emergency Session after Raisi Copter Crash

Azerbaijan's President Ilham Aliyev and Iran's President Ebrahim Raisi, attend the inauguration ceremony of Qiz Qalasi dam, at the border between Iran and Azerbaijan. A helicopter with Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi on board had to make an emergency landing in the west of the country on Sunday, state media reported. -/dpa
Azerbaijan's President Ilham Aliyev and Iran's President Ebrahim Raisi, attend the inauguration ceremony of Qiz Qalasi dam, at the border between Iran and Azerbaijan. A helicopter with Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi on board had to make an emergency landing in the west of the country on Sunday, state media reported. -/dpa
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Iran's Cabinet Holds Emergency Session after Raisi Copter Crash

Azerbaijan's President Ilham Aliyev and Iran's President Ebrahim Raisi, attend the inauguration ceremony of Qiz Qalasi dam, at the border between Iran and Azerbaijan. A helicopter with Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi on board had to make an emergency landing in the west of the country on Sunday, state media reported. -/dpa
Azerbaijan's President Ilham Aliyev and Iran's President Ebrahim Raisi, attend the inauguration ceremony of Qiz Qalasi dam, at the border between Iran and Azerbaijan. A helicopter with Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi on board had to make an emergency landing in the west of the country on Sunday, state media reported. -/dpa

The Iranian cabinet has convened for an emergency meeting in light of the helicopter accident involving President Ebrahim Raisi and Foreign Minister Hussein Amirabdollahian, state media reported Sunday.

The first vice president, Mohammad Mokhber, chaired the meeting in the late evening, state news agency IRNA reported.

He initiated further measures for the rescue operation. According to protocol, Mockber would become president in the event of Raisi's death, DPA reported.

Rescue workers continued to search on foot after dark for the scene of the helicopter accident, in poor weather conditions.

A total of 65 rescue teams were involved in the search for the helicopter's crew, including the Iranian armed forces.

According to the Tasnim news agency, the accident site has been located.

Meanwhile, special mountain rescue units also arrived in the accident region.

The the Iranian president's helicopter came in for what has been called a "hard landing" on Sunday in the north-west of the country after a meeting between Raisi and the president of neighbouring Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev.


US to Complete Withdrawal from Niger by Sept. 15

A screengrab of a satellite image shows the view of Airbase 101, next to Diori Hamani International Airport in Niamey, Niger, April 21, 2024. 2024 Planet Labs Inc./Handout via REUTERS Purchase Licensing Rights
A screengrab of a satellite image shows the view of Airbase 101, next to Diori Hamani International Airport in Niamey, Niger, April 21, 2024. 2024 Planet Labs Inc./Handout via REUTERS Purchase Licensing Rights
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US to Complete Withdrawal from Niger by Sept. 15

A screengrab of a satellite image shows the view of Airbase 101, next to Diori Hamani International Airport in Niamey, Niger, April 21, 2024. 2024 Planet Labs Inc./Handout via REUTERS Purchase Licensing Rights
A screengrab of a satellite image shows the view of Airbase 101, next to Diori Hamani International Airport in Niamey, Niger, April 21, 2024. 2024 Planet Labs Inc./Handout via REUTERS Purchase Licensing Rights

Niger and the United States have reached an agreement on the withdrawal of American troops from the West African country, a process that has already begun and will be finished by Sept. 15, they said in a joint statement.

Niger's ruling junta last month told the US to withdraw its nearly 1,000 military personnel from the country. Until a coup last year Niger had been a key partner in Washington's fight against insurgents in the Sahel region of Africa, who have killed thousands of people and displaced millions more.

The agreement between Niger's defense ministry and the US Department of Defense, reached after a five-day meeting, guarantees the protection of US troops until their withdrawal and establishes procedures to ease the entry and exit of American personnel during the withdrawal process.

"The Ministry of Defense of Niger and the US Department of Defense recall the common sacrifices of the Nigerien and American forces in the fight against terrorism and welcome the mutual efforts made in building up the Nigerien armed forces," they said in a joint statement.

"The withdrawal of American forces from Niger in no way affects the pursuit of relations between the United States and Niger in the area of development. Also, Niger and the United States are committed to an ongoing diplomatic dialogue to define the future of their bilateral relations."

A senior US military official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that about 100 US troops had already been moved out of the country.

The United States will remove sensitive equipment it has in Niger, but will leave behind other larger pieces like air conditioning units, generators and hangars, a separate US defense official said, Reuters reported.

The United States will let Nigerien forces use that equipment left behind, if it meets legal standards, the official said.

The official added that it did not appear that the Nigerien junta wanted to hand over counter-terrorism operations to Russian troops or those from the Wagner private military company.

"I think we tend to believe what they've told us, at least the CNSP, which is they're not looking for any foreign forces in large numbers here," the official said, using an acronym for Niger's ruling military council.

Niger's decision to ask for the removal of US troops came after a meeting in Niamey in mid-March, when senior US officials raised concerns about issues such as the expected arrival of Russian forces and reports of Iran seeking raw materials in the country, including uranium.


World Countries Offer Iran Support in Raisi Search, Israel Denies Involvement

The helicopter that was carrying Raisi after taking off from near the Iranian-Azerbaijani border today (AP)
The helicopter that was carrying Raisi after taking off from near the Iranian-Azerbaijani border today (AP)
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World Countries Offer Iran Support in Raisi Search, Israel Denies Involvement

The helicopter that was carrying Raisi after taking off from near the Iranian-Azerbaijani border today (AP)
The helicopter that was carrying Raisi after taking off from near the Iranian-Azerbaijani border today (AP)

A number of countries around the world on Sunday offered help with rescue efforts to locate Iran's President Ebrahim Raisi, whose helicopter was reportedly involved in an accident.

Saudi Arabia in a statement by the Foreign Ministry affirmed that its stands by the sisterly Islamic Republic of Iran in these difficult circumstances, stressing its readiness to provide any assistance that the Iranian agencies need.

In a statement on X, Qatar expressed its "deep concern" over the helicopter carrying Iran's president and foreign minister and offered "to provide all forms of support in the search".

The Gulf state's foreign ministry spokesman Majed Al-Ansari gave "Qatar's wishes for the safety of the president, the foreign minister, and their companions", the statement added.

Also, the UAE foreign ministry said in a statement the country was prepared to offer all possible support in the search and rescue operations.

For its part, Kuwait said it was closely following with concern the reports regarding the helicopter accident and expressed its "support for the Islamic Republic of Iran in this critical situation."

Iranian search and rescue teams were scouring a fog-shrouded mountainside as Iranian state media said "an accident happened to the helicopter" transporting Raisi, a 63-year-old ultraconservative.

The Iraqi government said in a statement it had instructed its interior ministry, the Red Crescent and other relevant bodies to offer help to neighbouring Iran in the search mission.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Sunday said he was "profoundly saddened" at news of the helicopter accident involving Raisi, and offered "all necessary support" to the search.

"We are following the incident closely, are in contact and in coordination with the Iranian authorities, and we are ready to provide all necessary support," Erdogan posted on X.

Also, a Turkish foreign ministry spokesman told AFP that Iran had requested technical support for its search.

"We are in the process of discussing the aid that could be sent over the fastest," he added. Tehran had also asked for technical support, said the spokesman.

The government's emergency aid agency AFAD said Türkiye had provided a helicopter equipped for night searches.

For its part, Russia is sending a team of rescuers to Iran to help search for the helicopter.

"At the request of the Iranian side, rescuers from the Russian Ministry of Emergency Situations will assist in the search and rescue operation," the ministry wrote in a statement published on Telegram.

The team, which "consists of 47 specialists with the necessary gear and equipment, all-terrain vehicles, as well as a BO-105 helicopter," will head to the northwest city of Tabriz, it said.

Azerbaijan and Armenia also offered help with rescue efforts.

The European commissioner for crisis management, Janez Lenarcic, said the commission had activated its satellite mapping service to aid search efforts, following a request for assistance from Iran. The Copernicus Emergency Management Service provides mapping products based on satellite imagery.

Meanwhile, Israeli Channel 13 quoted official Israeli sources as saying that Israel had “no connection” to the helicopter crash.