Iran’s supreme leader presided over a funeral Wednesday for the country’s late president, foreign minister and others killed in a helicopter crash.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei held the service at Tehran University, the caskets of the dead draped in Iranian flags with their pictures on them. On the late President Ebrahim Raisi’s coffin sat a black turban — signifying his direct descendance from Islam’s Prophet Muhammad.

“Oh Allah, we didn’t see anything but good from him,” Khamenei said in the standard prayer for the dead in Arabic, the language of Islam’s holy book, the Quran. He soon left and the crowd inside rushed to the front, reaching out to touch the coffins. Iran’s acting president, Mohammad Mokhber, stood nearby and openly wept during the service.

People then carried the coffins out on their shoulders, with chants outside of “Death to America!” They loaded them onto a semitruck trailer for a procession through downtown Tehran to Azadi, or “Freedom,” Square, where Raisi gave speeches in the past.

In attendance were top leaders of Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard, one of the country’s major power centers.

Also on hand was Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas, the militant group that Iran has armed and supported during the ongoing Israel-Hamas war raging in the Gaza Strip. Before the funeral, Haniyeh spoke and an emcee led the crowd in the chant: “Death to Israel!”

“I come in the name of the Palestinian people, in the name of the resistance factions of Gaza … to express our condolences,” Haniyeh told those gathered.

He also recounted meeting Raisi in Tehran during Ramadan, the holy Muslim fasting month, and heard the president say the Palestinian issue remains the key one of the Muslim world.

The Muslim world “must fulfil their obligations to the Palestinians to liberate their land,” Haniyeh said, recounting Raisi’s words. He also described Raisi calling the Oct. 7 attack that sparked the war, which saw 1,200 people killed and 250 others taken hostage, an “earthquake in the heart of the Zionist entity.” The war since has seen 35,000 Palestinians killed in the Gaza Strip and hundreds of others in the West Bank in Israeli operations.

Mourners gather beneath a large billboard commemorating the late Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi in Tehran on Wednesday.Atta Kenare / AFP – Getty Images
Iranians React To Death Of President Ebrahim Raisi
A mourning ceremony for late Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi in the mosque of Imam Khomeini on Tuesday.Majid Saeedi / Getty Images

Also expected to attend services in Tehran were Pakistan’s Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and a delegation from the Taliban of Afghanistan, including their Foreign Minister Amir Khan Mutaqqi.

Iran’s theocracy declared five days of mourning over Sunday’s crash, encouraging people to attend the public mourning sessions.

Funerals will be held in two more cities Thursday. Raisi is expected to be laid to rest in the holy city of Mashhad on Friday.

His unexpected death led to scenes of mourning in Iran on Monday, as messages of condolences poured in.

But it was unclear whether Raisi’s death would draw public grieving on the scale of mass funerals like that for Gen. Qassem Soleimani, a top Iranian commander who was killed in a U.S. airstrike in 2020. The theocratic regime often uses such events as a display of national strength and unity.

Some expressed relief at the death of Raisi, 63, who was also known for presiding over brutal crackdowns on political opponents and protesters.

Raisi was a conservative hard-liner, unlike his more moderate predecessor, Hassan Rouhani. His tenure saw the country increasingly clash with the West, particularly over the role of Tehran-backed militant groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah, and advance its nuclear program after the U.S. withdrew from a landmark nuclear deal.

Although most observers agreed there was no major threat to the stability of the regime, the late president was among the top contenders to replace the aging Khamenei. His death sparked fears of a succession crisis amid already heightened tensions after Tehran’s unprecedented direct retaliatory attack against Israel. 

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