The Iranian Embassy siege took place from April 30 to May 5, 1980. A group of six armed Arab men stormed the Iranian Embassy in London. They took 26 hostages – demanding safe passage out of the United Kingdom and the release of Arab prisoners held by the Iranian government in Khuzestan Province, Iran. On the sixth day the armed men killed a hostage and threw his body out of the embassy. Shortly afterward the elite Special Air Service conducted Operation Nimrod to rescue the remaining hostages.
Hostages. The hostages included embassy staff, several visitors, and a police officer who was guarding the embassy. The hostage takers demands were release of 91 Arab prisoners in Khuzestan Province, Iran and safe passage out of the United Kingdom. The British government did not accede to the demands and a standoff ensued. Negotiations resulted in the release of five hostages for some air time for the hostage takers on British television.
Hostage Takers. The Arabs who took the hostages were members of the Democratic Revolutionary Front for the Liberation of Arabistan (DRFLA). These were Iranian Arabs who wanted to establish an autonomous Arab state in the southern region of the Iranian province of Khuzestan (Google maps) on the border of southern Iraq and the Persian Gulf. The province was rich in oil. Some members of the hostage takers were politically active in Iran and had been subject to interrogations by the Iranian secret police – the SAVAK. The Arabs had arrived in Britain in March 1980 and while there acquired firearms, ammunition, and grenades – possibly provided by the Iraq embassy in London.
Rescue Force. The Special Air Service is a regiment of the British Army – part of the UK’s special forces. It was formed during the Second World War to conduct special operations and irregular warfare. After the Munich massacre at the 1972 Olympic Games in Germany and the many airline hijackings of the early 1970s, some western nations established or realigned special forces units to have a counter-terrorism capability. The SAS became the United Kingdom’s primary anti-hijacking and counter-terrorist unit. The raiding party of the SAS for Operation Nimrod numbered from 30 to 35 soldiers.
First Day. The hostage event took place at mid-day on April 30, 1980. Police responded immediately and within hours journalists and camera crews set up watch in front of the Embassy and began broadcasting live. The police were in charge of the overall response to the terrorist event and provided the negotiation team. Between the first day and the last day of the siege negotiations took place and some hostages were released. However, the hostage takers were becoming increasing frustrated – realizing their demands were not being met by the British authorities.
Sixth Day. On the sixth day of the siege, May 5, 1980, the Arabs killed a hostage and threw his body out of the embassy. The British government decided to attempt a rescue of the remaining hostages. The task was given to the Special Air Service (SAS). Members of the SAS rappelled from the roof of the embassy and entered the building through the windows. The raid lasted less than 20 minutes resulting in five of the six hostage takers killed and the rescue of the hostages; except one. A single hostage was killed during the rescue and two wounded. The one hostage taker who survived served 27 years in prison, was paroled in 2008, and lives in England. The raid took place in full view of journalists who were covering the event and it was broadcast in real time on live television.
Aftermath. Operation Nimrod brought the Special Air Service back into the public spotlight; enhancing its already stellar reputation. It also was a source of pride for Britain; as it occurred the same time that the U.S. Embassy in Tehran was held by Iranian revolutionary students and the failed U.S. rescue attempt – Operation Eagle Claw. The successful raid prompted many United Kingdom citizens to apply for the unit. The 22 SAS had multiple requests by other governments around the world for training its anti-terrorist forces. Members of the SAS were also requested by other nations for advise during hostage or terrorist events. The 22 SAS, as well as the 21 SAS and 23 SAS – two regiments from the volunteer Territorial Army, were safe from any force reductions and received increased funding as a result of the success of Operation Nimrod.
Iranian Embassy Siege – Wikipedia
Iranian Embassy Siege – National Army Museum
Photo: The Iranian embassy in London, severely damaged by fire after the Iranian siege. Photo by Steve White, 2008. Creative Commons 2.0.