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Pope sends 'assurance of spiritual closeness' to Iran

Iran's allies mourn death of President Ebrahim Raisi, while the US says the ultraconservative leader 'had blood on his hands'
A book of condolences is seen in front of portraits of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi (left) and Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian (right) at the Islamic republic's consulate in the central Iraqi holy city of Najaf on May 20. Raisi was confirmed dead on May 20 after search and rescue teams found his crashed helicopter in a fog-shrouded mountain region, sparking mourning in the Islamic republic.

A book of condolences is seen in front of portraits of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi (left) and Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian (right) at the Islamic republic's consulate in the central Iraqi holy city of Najaf on May 20. Raisi was confirmed dead on May 20 after search and rescue teams found his crashed helicopter in a fog-shrouded mountain region, sparking mourning in the Islamic republic. (Photo: AFP)

Published: May 21, 2024 05:32 AM GMT
Updated: May 21, 2024 05:54 AM GMT

Pope Francis sent condolences to Iran's Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on May 21 following the death of President Ebrahim Raisi in a helicopter crash.

"I send condolences upon the deaths of President Ebrahim Raisi, Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian and all who perished in yesterday's helicopter crash," wrote the 87-year-old pope in a telegram written in English and addressed to Khamenei.

"Entrusting the souls of the deceased to the mercy of the Almighty, and with prayers for those who mourn their loss, especially their families, I send the assurance of spiritual closeness to the nation at this difficult time," read the telegram, published May 21 by the Vatican.

Raisi's helicopter crashed Sunday in northwestern Iran, and its wreckage was found Monday morning.

The helicopter lost communication while it was on its way back to Tabriz after Raisi attended a joint inauguration of a dam with his Azeri counterpart, Ilham Aliyev, on their common border.

A massive search and rescue operation started in the afternoon of May 19 when two other helicopters in Raisi's convoy lost contact with his aircraft amid harsh weather conditions in the mountainous region.

State TV early on May 20 broke the news of his death, saying "the servant of the Iranian nation, Ayatollah Ebrahim Raisi, has achieved the highest level of martyrdom", showing pictures of him as a voice recited the Quran.

Killed alongside the Iranian president were Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, members of the provincial authorities of East Azerbaijan and his security team.

Iran's military chief of staff Mohammad Bagheri on May 20 ordered a probe into the cause of the crash.

Meanwhile, Iran's powerful allies on May 21 mourned the death of Raisi, while regional militants hailed him as a supporter of the Palestinian cause.

The United States said the deceased ultraconservative leader "had blood on his hands," Russia and China called him a "friend", and Iran's arch-foe Israel has yet to react publicly.

Members of the UN Security Council observed a minute's silence in Raisi's memory at the request of the current council president, Mozambique Ambassador Pedro Comissario Afonso.

US State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said the United States "expresses its official condolences" and reaffirmed "our support for the Iranian people and their struggle for human rights and fundamental freedoms".

Later, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters that Raisi was responsible for "atrocious" rights abuses and "had a lot of blood on his hands."

China's President Xi Jinping said "the Chinese people have lost a good friend," foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told a press conference.

The European Union expressed its "sincere condolences". EU Council President Charles Michel said in a statement: "Our thoughts go to the families."

Iran's Gulf neighbours Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar and Oman sent their condolences.

Jassem al-Budaiwi, secretary-general of the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), called it a "tragic accident".

Russian President Vladimir Putin, meanwhile, hailed Raisi as an "outstanding politician" and "a true friend of Russia" in a letter to Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Hamas mourned Raisi as an "honourable supporter" of the Palestinian militant group, currently at war with Israel in Gaza, and hailed his "support for the Palestinian resistance."

Exiled opposition group the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) said Raisi's death was "a monumental and irreparable strategic blow to the mullahs' supreme leader Ali Khamenei and the entire regime, notorious for its executions and massacres," in a statement from the group's leader, Maryam Rajavi.

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