30 April 1980

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The Iranian Embassy siege starts in London.

On the 30th April 1980, six armed men entered the Iranian embassy in London. Its inhabitants were taken hostage – staff and guests who included the ambassador, British journalists and PC Trevor Lock, the policeman guarding the embassy. The terrorists were members of the Democratic Revolutionary Front for the Liberation of Arabistan, a group fighting for independence from Iran for their home region. They demanded the release of prisoners held by the Iranian government. Tense and protracted negotiations followed. These were complicated by Britain’s poor relationship with Iran, covert Iraqi support for the terrorists and international treaties around terrorists and the rights of embassies.

From the start, the British authorities decided that they would storm the embassy if any hostages were killed. It was also clear that they could not let the terrorists go. And so, while negotiations continued, preparations were made for that attack. The SAS were tasked with storming the embassy. Some of Britain’s best troops, the SAS was first founded in World War Two as a highly trained unit whose members relied on their own initiative rather than rigid command structures. Since the terrorist massacre at the 1972 Munich games, they had developed a group specially trained to deal with terrorist incidents – the Counter-Revolutionary Warfare wing, or Special Projects Team. These men were experts in difficult close quarters fighting and hostage rescues. At the start of the embassy siege, the SAS had a relatively low public profile. That was about to change.

The assault teams would burst into the embassy by as many different routes as they could, using stun grenades and tear gas to disorient the terrorists.They would move quickly and decisively to prevent the terrorists regrouping or killing their hostages. Still, high casualties were likely in an assault – it was estimated that 40% of the hostages would die, and the SAS would also lose men.

Understanding the situation was vital. The SAS had advised on security for the embassy when it was run by the previous Iranian regime, so they had knowledge of the building’s layout and potentially out-dated security information. Tiny microphones and video cameras were inserted through holes drilled in the walls, to give insight into the developing situation. The soldiers who would carry out the assault had reconnoitred entry points on the roof. The release of three hostages had given them further information.