Iran begins helicopter crash probe as President Ebrahim Raisi funeral events start

Thousands of people gathered on the streets of the Iranian city Tabriz on Tuesday to mourn President Ebrahim Raisi and other high-ranking officials who died in a helicopter crash during foggy weather.

Iran’s government declared a week of mourning following Sunday's crash.

It took place on a remote mountainside near Azerbaijan. The incident killed Raisi, a 63-year-old ultraconservative cleric who had been the Islamic Republic's president for three years and was once seen as a potential successor to Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei.

Several Iranian security officials, local politicians and clerics, and Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian and the helicopter's crew also died in the incident.

Mourners touched the coffins of Raisi and the others killed in the crash as they passed through Tabriz, video and images published on state media showed. They held up portraits and waved flags. A large funeral was expected to take place in Tehran on Wednesday, with Khamenei leading a prayer service.

Raisi will be buried in Mashad, his hometown, on Friday.

In a closed society like Iran, it can be difficult to assess the true strength of public feeling when its leaders die. When Qasem Soleimani, a senior commander of Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards was killed by a U.S. missile in 2020 in Iraq, his funeral drew huge crowds of mourners, many apparently weeping with sorrow and rage.

Iran crash investigation: few clues

The ceremonies and processions nevertheless came as Iranian and international investigators said they still don't have a strong indication as to what caused the crash, however, some kind of technical fault was suspected. Raisi and his entourage were traveling in a decades-old, U.S.-made helicopter. Years of U.S. and Western sanctions have made it difficult for Iran to secure spare parts and service much of the country's aging air fleet.

President Trump’s sanctions: They bring fear and misery for Iran’s air travelers, aviation industry

Iran said it established a "commission" to investigate the crash. Turkey said that as part of the search operation Sunday, it attempted to trace the helicopter’s transponder, a device that transmits location data.

"We immediately contacted the Iranian side. They also contacted us, but unfortunately, it was seen that the signal system was either turned off or the helicopter did not have the signal system," Abdulkadir Uraloglu, Turkey's transportation and infrastructure minister, said in an interview with his nation's state broadcaster, TRT. Uraloglu said it was too early to draw firm conclusions but foggy weather appeared to be the crash's most likely cause.

Russia has said it is willing to provide assistance with Iran's investigation into the cause of the crash. In the past, Iran has declined offers of international help to investigate its air crashes.

The right kind of condolences for Iran's president

Iran will hold an election on June 28. Away from the investigation, Raisi's death, which political scientists said was unlikely to significantly alter Iran's domestic or foreign policies, reverberated in some diplomatic hallways.

A tweet by European Council President Charles Michel saying that the "EU expresses its sincere condolences" drew a backlash online, with the social media hashtag #Notinmyname highlighting Raisi's alleged role in the execution of thousands of political prisoners in Iran in the 1980s when he was branded the "Butcher of Tehran."

Raisi and Iran's prison massacres: Iran president 'has blood on his hands'

A subsequent statement from the U.S. State Department offering "official condolences" for the president's death and reaffirming "our support for the Iranian people and their struggle for human rights and fundamental freedoms," also led to online criticism. "Offering condolences for the death of this monster is a disgrace,” Republican Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas wrote on the social media site X.

In a briefing on Monday, U.S. State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller sought to defend the statement.

"We have been quite clear that Ebrahim Raisi was a brutal participant in the repression of the Iranian people for nearly four decades," he said. "Some of the worst human rights abuses occurred during his tenure as president − especially the human rights abuses against the women and girls of Iran."

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: President Ebrahim Raisi crash probe, funeral events start