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Iran Pres., FM Die in Helicopter Crash 05/20 06:10

   Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, a hard-line protege of the country's 
supreme leader who helped oversee the mass executions of thousands in 1988 and 
later led the country as it enriched uranium near weapons-grade levels, 
launched a major attack on Israel and experienced mass protests, has died. He 
was 63.

   DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) -- Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, a 
hard-line protege of the country's supreme leader who helped oversee the mass 
executions of thousands in 1988 and later led the country as it enriched 
uranium near weapons-grade levels, launched a major attack on Israel and 
experienced mass protests, has died. He was 63.

   Raisi's death, along with the foreign minister and other officials in a 
helicopter crash Sunday in northwestern Iran, came as Iran struggles with 
internal dissent and its relations with the wider world. A cleric first, Raisi 
once kissed the Quran, the Islamic holy book, before the United Nations and 
spoke more like a preacher than a statesman when addressing the world.

   Raisi, who lost a presidential election to the relatively moderate incumbent 
Hassan Rouhani in 2017, came to power four years later in a vote carefully 
managed by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to clear any major opposition 

   His election came at a time when relations between Tehran and Washington 
were particularly tense following U.S. President Donald Trump's 2018 decision 
to unilaterally withdraw America from a nuclear deal aimed at limiting Iran's 
uranium enrichment in exchange for sanctions relief.

   While Raisi said he wanted to rejoin the deal with world powers, his new 
administration instead pushed back against international inspections of nuclear 
facilities, in part over an alleged sabotage campaign that Tehran blamed on 
Israel. Talks to restore the accord remained stalled in his government's first 

   "Sanctions are the U.S.' new way of war with the nations of the world," 
Raisi told the United Nations in September 2021. "The policy of 'maximum 
oppression' is still on. We want nothing more than what is rightfully ours."

   Mass protests swept the country in 2022 after the death of Mahsa Amini, a 
woman who had been detained over her allegedly loose headscarf, or hijab. The 
monthslong security crackdown that followed the demonstrations killed more than 
500 people and more than 22,000 others were detained.

   In March, a United Nations investigative panel found that Iran was 
responsible for the "physical violence" that led to Amini's death.

   Then came the current Israel-Hamas war, in which Iran-backed militants 
targeted Israel. Tehran launched an extraordinary attack itself on Israel in 
April that used hundreds of drones, cruise missiles and ballistic missiles. 
Israel, the U.S. and its allies shot down the incoming fire, but it showed just 
how intense the yearslong shadow war between Iran and Israel was.

   Born in Mashhad on Dec. 14, 1960, Raisi was born into a family that traces 
its lineage to Islam's Prophet Muhammad, as signaled by the black turban he 
would later wear. His father died when he was 5. He went on to the seminary in 
the Shiite holy city of Qom and later described himself as an ayatollah, a 
high-ranking Shiite cleric.

   In 1988, at the end of Iran's long war with Iraq, Raisi served on what would 
become known as "death commissions," which handed down death sentences for 
political prisoners, militants and others. International rights groups estimate 
that as many as 5,000 people were executed.

   After Iran's then-Supreme Leader Ruhollah Khomeini accepted a U.N.-brokered 
cease-fire, members of the Iranian opposition group Mujahedeen-e-Khalq, heavily 
armed by Iraq's Saddam Hussein, stormed across the Iranian border in a surprise 
attack. Iran ultimately blunted their assault, but the attack set the stage for 
the sham retrials.

   Some who appeared were asked to identify themselves. Those who responded 
"mujahedeen" were sent to their deaths.

   Raisi was defiant when asked at a news conference after his election about 
the executions.

   "I am proud of being a defender of human rights and of people's security and 
comfort as a prosecutor wherever I was," said Raisi, who also served as Iran's 
attorney general for a time.

   In 2016, Khamenei appointed Raisi to run the Imam Reza charity foundation, 
which manages a conglomerate of businesses and endowments in Iran. It is one of 
many bonyads, or charitable foundations, fueled by donations or assets seized 
after Iran's 1979 Islamic Revolution.

   These foundations offer no public accounting of their spending and answer 
only to Iran's supreme leader. The Imam Reza charity, known as "Astan-e Quds-e 
Razavi" in Farsi, is believed to be one of the biggest. Analysts estimate its 
worth at tens of billions of dollars as it owns almost half the land in 
Mashhad, Iran's second-largest city.

   At Raisi's appointment to the foundation, Khamenei called him a "trustworthy 
person with high-profile experience." That led to analyst speculation that 
Khamenei could be grooming Raisi as a possible candidate to be Iran's 
third-ever supreme leader, a Shiite cleric who has final say on all state 
matters and serves as the country's commander-in-chief.

   Though Raisi lost his 2017 campaign, he still garnered nearly 16 million 
votes. Khamenei installed him as the head of Iran's internationally criticized 
judiciary, long known for its closed-door trials of human rights activists and 
those with Western ties. The U.S. Treasury in 2019 sanctioned Raisi "for his 
administrative oversight over the executions of individuals who were juveniles 
at the time of their crime and the torture and other cruel, inhuman, or 
degrading treatment or punishment of prisoners in Iran, including amputations."

   By 2021, Raisi became the dominant figure in the election after a panel 
under Khamenei disqualified candidates who posed the greatest challenge to his 
protege. He swept nearly 62% of the 28.9 million votes in that election. 
Millions stayed home and others voided ballots, resulting in the lowest turnout 
by percentage in the Islamic Republic's history.

   Raisi is survived by his wife and two daughters.

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