Tens of thousands in attendance as Raisi is buried in Iran’s Imam Reza shrine

Services fail to draw same crowds as those seen at funeral for Soleimani in 2020, in possible sign of country’s feelings; Hamas, Hezbollah and Houthis meet on sidelines

Flag-draped coffins of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and his companions who were killed in a helicopter crash are carried during their funeral ceremony in the city of Mashhad, Iran, May 23, 2024.(Iranian Presidency Office via AP)
Flag-draped coffins of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and his companions who were killed in a helicopter crash are carried during their funeral ceremony in the city of Mashhad, Iran, May 23, 2024.(Iranian Presidency Office via AP)

Iran on Thursday interred its late president Ebrahim Raisi at the holiest site for Shiite Muslims in the Islamic Republic, a final sign of respect after he was killed in a helicopter crash earlier this week along with foreign minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian and six others.

Raisi’s coffin was flown to Mashhad in northeast Iran after a funeral procession was held for him on Thursday morning in the city of Birjand, in Iran’s South Khorasan province along the Afghan border, where thousands in black gathered along a main boulevard in the city.

A semi truck bore his casket down the street, with mourners reaching out to touch it and tossing scarves and other items to be placed against it for a blessing. A sign on the truck read: “This is the shrine.”

Hours later, the plane carrying Raisi’s coffin arrived in Mashhad, his hometown, where he was laid to rest at the gold-domed Imam Reza shrine, the holiest Islamic site in Iran, revered by Shiite Muslims as the resting place of the 9th-century imam Ali al-Reza.

In 2016, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei appointed Raisi to run the Imam Reza charity foundation, which manages a vast conglomerate of businesses and endowments in Iran, as well as oversees the shrine. 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 in the country. Analysts estimate its worth at tens of billions of dollars as it owns almost half the land in Mashhad, Iran’s second-largest city.

Raisi is the first top politician in the country to be buried at the shrine, which represents a major honor for the cleric.

A handout picture provided by the Iranian presidency shows mourners attending the funeral procession of late Iranian president Ebrahim Raisi and others, in the eastern city of Birjand, on May 23, 2024. (Iranian Presidency / AFP)

However, the services across the country did not draw the same crowds as those who gathered for services for Revolutionary Guard General Qassem Soleimani in 2020, slain by a US drone strike in Baghdad.

It was a potential sign of the public’s feelings about Raisi’s presidency during which the government harshly cracked down on all dissent during protests over the 2022 death of Mahsa Amini, a Kurdish woman who died in police custody after she was arrested for allegedly not wearing her mandatory headscarf to authorities’ liking.

That crackdown, as well as Iran’s struggling economy, went unmentioned in the hours of coverage provided by state television and in newspapers. Also never discussed was Raisi’s involvement in the mass execution of an estimated 5,000 dissidents at the end of the Iran-Iraq war, which had earned him the moniker “the Butcher of Tehran.”

Prosecutors warned people against showing any public signs of celebrating Raisi’s death and a heavy security force presence has been seen in Tehran since the crash.

Raisi, 63, was widely seen as a candidate to succeed 85-year-old Khamenei, who wields ultimate power in Iran. Mohammad Mokhber, who had been first vice president, is serving as interim president until a June election. For now, though, there’s no clear favorite for the position among Iran’s political elite — particularly no one who is a Shiite cleric, like Raisi.

Acting president Mokhber, a relatively unknown first vice president until Sunday’s crash, stepped into Raisi’s role following his death and even attended a meeting between Khamenei and Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh on Wednesday.

State media circulated photos Thursday showing a meeting on the sidelines of Raisi’s funeral between Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps chief Maj. Gen. Hossein Salami, Quds Force Brigadier General Esmail Qaani and representatives from Hamas, Lebanon’s Hezbollah terror group and Yemen’s Houthi rebels.

According to state-owned broadcaster IRIB, the meeting focused on “the latest political, social and military situation and the Al-Aqsa Flood Operation” — the name used by Hamas to refer to its October 7 terror assault on Israel.

The meeting reportedly stressed “the continuation of jihad and struggle until the complete victory of the Palestinian resistance in Gaza with the participation of all resistance groups and fronts in the region,” IRIB added.

Iran’s Fars news agency said representatives of Palestinian Islamic Jihad, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and the Iran-backed Iraqi jihadist groups were also present at the meeting.

Iran is a key backer of Hamas but has repeatedly denied involvement in the October 7 massacre in southern Israel, in which thousands of invading terrorists slaughtered some 1,200 people and seized 252 hostages, launching a war through which Israel has vowed to dismantle the terror group’s capabilities.

A woman holds a poster of the late Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, who was killed in a helicopter crash along with President Ebrahim Raisi on Sunday in a mountainous region of the country’s northwest, during his funeral ceremony at the foreign ministry in Tehran, Iran, Thursday, May 23, 2024. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

In Tehran, meanwhile, former Iranian foreign ministers Mohammed Javad Zarif and Ali Akbar Salehi and other officials and foreign dignitaries paid respects to Amir-Abdollahian at the Foreign Ministry, where his casket was put on display.

His body was later interred in Shahr-e Rey just outside of Tehran at the Abdol Azim shrine, another final resting place for those famed in Persian history.

“Give Soleimani our greetings,” a religious singer said as Amir-Abdollahian’s body was placed inside its final resting place, referring to the slain general.

Ahead of Raisi’s funeral, the representatives of some 60 countries took part in a ceremony paying their final respects on Wednesday afternoon. Among those in attendance were Tunisian President Kais Saied and Qatari Emir Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, as well as representatives from Belarus and Serbia, while countries of the European Union declined to attend.

Khamenei declared five days of national mourning in the wake of the helicopter crash.

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