By: Mir M.Hosseini
The siege of Iranian London Embassy took place on April, 30 1980 at approximately 11:30 after a group of six heavily armed men stormed the embassy building in South Kensington. The gunmen took 26 people mostly embassy staff hostage, but several visitors and a police officer, who had been guarding the embassy, were also held. Fortunately, three people managed to escape.
The hostage-takers, allegedly members of a group campaigning for the autonomy of Iran's Khuzestan Province, demanded the release of Arab prisoners from jails in Khuzestan and their own safe passage out of the United Kingdom. They threatened to blow up the embassy and kill all of the hostages if their demands were not met by noon on May, 1st.
The Iranian government accused the British and American governments of sponsoring the attack as revenge for the ongoing siege of the US Embassy in Tehran known to public as the Hostage Crisis.
The British government refused to grant a safe passage to the terrorists, and a siege ensued. When the deadline passed on May, 1 the terrorists asked for negotiations by three ambassadors from Arab countries. Embassies of Algeria, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Syria and Qatar were contacted to ask if their ambassadors would be willing to talk to the hostage-takers. Jordan ambassador immediately refused get involved but the other five said they would consult with their governments. Meanwhile BBC broadcast the statement issued by the terrorists adding to Iran's suspicions that the whole scenario was part of an anti-Iranian propaganda campaign.
Over the following days, police negotiators secured the release of five hostages in exchange for minor concessions, such as the broadcasting of the hostage-takers' demands on British television.
By the sixth day of the siege the gunmen had become increasingly frustrated at the lack of progress in meeting their demands.
On May, 5 at exactly 13:45, three shots were heard from inside the embassy. Three further shots were fired later that afternoon and Abbas Lavasani's body was dumped out of the front door. Lavasani was embassy's chief press officer.
As a result, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher agreed to hand control of the operation over to the British Army. Special Air Service (SAS), a regiment of the British Army, was ordered to conduct an assault to rescue the remaining hostages. Shortly afterwards, at 19:23 soldiers started coming down from the roof of the building and forced entry through the windows.
However, their descent had not gone according to the plan and the SAS sergeant leading the operation became entangled in his rope! While trying to assist him, one of the other soldiers had accidentally smashed a window with his foot. Suddenly, a fire started and travelled up the curtains and out of the second-floor window, severely burning the hanging staff sergeant. After this mishap he was cut free and fell to the balcony below.
During the 17-minute raid, the SAS rescued all but one of the remaining hostages, and killed five of the six terrorists. Ali Akbar Samadzadeh, an employee at embassy was killed during the operation.
The remaining terrorist Fowzi Badavinejad who concealed among hostages was caught. He was later prosecuted and served 27 years in British prisons.
Hostages later said in interviews that they had persuaded their captors to surrender and television footage appeared to show them throwing weapons out of the window and holding a white flag. The reason why they were shot to death seems to be an authorization to kill issued by high officials. After Fowzi Badavinejad was identified, he was dragged away by an SAS trooper, who allegedly intended to take him back into the building and shoot him. The soldier reportedly changed his mind when it was pointed out to him that the raid was being broadcast on live television.
It emerged that Iraq had sponsored the training and equipping of the hostage-takers and according to the Iranian historical memory, Britain has a long record of instigating segregation and covert operations in Iran. The incident was forgotten after the Iran–Iraq War broke out with Iraqi invasion of Iran, four months later on Sep, 22, 1980. UK was among hostile states which supported Iraq during the eight year war. It was not until 1993 that 16 Princes Gate, having suffered major damage from a fire that broke out during the assault, was re-opened as the Iranian embassy.
The SAS raid was broadcast live and was viewed by millions of people in the UK, making it a defining moment in British history. The Iranian government welcomed the end of the siege; however, the incident strained already-tense relation between the UK and Iran following the Iranian Revolution. The Iranian government declared that the siege of the embassy was planned by the British and American governments, and that the hostages who had been killed were martyrs for the Revolution.
The embassy building was severely damaged by fire. It was more than a decade before the British and Iranian governments came to an agreement whereby the United Kingdom would repair the damage to the embassy in London and Iran would pay for repairs to the British embassy in Tehran, which had been damaged during the 1979 Iranian Revolution. Iranian diplomats began working from 16 Princes Gate again in December 1993.
After serving his term, in 2005 Fowzi Badavinejad would normally have been immediately deported to his home country. However he was paroled in 2008 and was released under UK protection; in violation of Iranian rights to prosecute a criminal who has committed murder of Iranian nationals on the Iranian soil.
Tensions between governments of two countries remain high like a tasteless marriage. Following a vote by Majlis to lower diplomatic ties with Britain, an assault by hardliner Iranian students on a British embassy compound in Gholhak resulted in closure of Iranian London Embassy again in Dec, 2011.