The death in a helicopter crash of the ultraconservative leader, aged 65, comes at a time of great tension in the region. A new election is due to be held within the next 50 days.

The death of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi in a helicopter crash was confirmed in a government statement on Monday, May 20, after hours of denials and contradictory information. On Sunday, Iranian media had initially reported the presidential helicopter had had a "hard landing," but later called it "a crash," suggesting Iranian officials were already aware of Raisi's death. Earlier in the evening, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei called on Iranians to "pray" and "hope that God will bring the president and his companions back into the arms of the Nation."

Also killed in the crash were Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, Governor of East Azerbaijan Malek Rahmati, and the imam of the Friday Prayer in the same region, Mohammad Ali Ale-Hashem. Raisi died after meeting his Azerbaijani counterpart Ilham Aliyev on Sunday morning to inaugurate a dam on the Aras River near the Iranian city of Khoda Afarin, which sits along the border with Azerbaijan. The helicopter crashed as they were returning to Tehran in dense fog.

The leader's death comes at a time of heightened tension in the region as a result of Israel's war on Gaza. On April 13, Iran launched an unprecedented drone and missile attack against Israel following the Israeli attack on the Iranian consulate in Damascus. The country has in recent months experienced unprecedented public protests, was targeted in January by the Islamic State group in the deadliest attack on Iranian soil since 1978, and is in the throes of a severe economic crisis.