Death of Ebrahim Raïssi: Who was the one nicknamed “the Butcher of Tehran”?

Iran’s eighth president, aged 63, was killed in a helicopter crash on Sunday while returning from a visit to Azerbaijan. Who was the one nicknamed “the butcher of Tehran”?

Born in 1960 and left fatherless at the age of 5, Ebrahim Raïssi began Islamic studies at the age of 15 in the holy Shiite city of Qom, at the end of which he obtained a doctorate from Hasheed Mutahari University in jurisprudence and foundations of Islamic law. He also obtained a master’s degree in international law.

Following his legal training, the man was appointed general prosecutor of the city of Karaj in 1981, then deputy prosecutor of Tehran in 1985. A mandate which made him one of the four responsible for the execution of opponents of the regime of ayatollahs in 1988, earning him the nickname “butcher of Tehran”.

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Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, and Iranian President Ebrahim Raissi during their meeting at the Kremlin in Moscow, Thursday December 7, 2023Sergei Bobylev, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP

Information on the number of people executed on his orders is not entirely clear, but we are talking about several thousand or even tens of thousands of people murdered in five months (between 4,482 and 30,000, depending on the sources).

Raisi then continued to climb the ranks of the Iranian judicial system. In 2004 he was appointed vice-president of the country’s Supreme Court, then in 2014, attorney general of Iran. In 2016 he rose to the no less prestigious position of president of the large charitable fund Estan-y Quds-y Razavi, a fund which manages the Imam Reza Mosque, one of the largest complexes in the world dedicated to Shiite Islam. In 2019 he became president of the Supreme Court of the Islamic Republic.

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Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Iranian counterpart Ebrahim Raissi at Saadabad Palace, Tehran, Iran, Tuesday July 19, 2022AP Photo/Vahid Salemi

It was in 2021 that he was elected president of the country, after running for the second time. His election was supported by the country’s conservative circles, within which he occupied a prominent position, seen by many even as a possible successor to the supreme spiritual leader, Ali Khamenei.

His mandate was marked by the all-out pursuit of the development of the country’s nuclear program, the rapprochement with Russia and China, as well as the continuity of an uncompromising position vis-à-vis Israel, the sworn enemy of Islamic Republic. In a speech given in Tehran in 2023, he notably threatened to “destroy Haifa and Tel Aviv”. And unlike his predecessors, Raisi was not content with words and indirect attacks via Iranian proxies in the Middle East. He will thus go down in history as the first president of the Islamic Republic to have launched a direct attack from Iran against the Jewish state, by sending more than 300 missiles and drones to its territory.

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