The SAS & The Iranian Embassy Siege

OPERATION NIMROD

‘THE IRANIAN EMBASSY SIEGE’

16 PRINCES GATE, LONDON

On April 30th, 1980 six armed Iranian men stormed the Iranian Embassy in London taking twenty-six people hostage.  Six days later the SAS ended the siege, killing five terrorists and capturing one.  It was the operation that propelled the SAS into the public eye and firmly established them as the worlds’ best counter-terrorist unit.

Wednesday April 30th, 1980

Six Iranian men run into the Iranian Embassy, 16 Princess Gate, London. PC Trevor Lock of the Diplomatic Protection Squad (DPS) was on guard outside the embassy and was able to raise the alarm by activating a secret alarm hidden in his lapel before being bundled into the embassy by the terrorists.  The terrorists were carrying SMG and Browning 9mm handguns, a .38 revolver, Russian made hand-grenades and Scorpion automatic rifles.  They quickly made their way around the embassy rounding up everyone there and hurding them onto the second floor where they split up the men and women.  They held 26 hostages; 5 women and 21 men, mainly embassy staff but they also held a group of tourists and two BBC staff, Chris Cramer (a BBC Journalist) and Sim Harris (a BBC sound recordist.)

Scotland Yards C13 Antiterrorist Squad were quickly dispatched and were followed by C7 Technical Support Branch and police snipers who quickly took up sniper/counter sniper positions. Negotiators were soon on scene and spoke to the terrorists by yelling through open windows until a telephone link was established with the embassy.

The SAS were notified that a terrorist incident had taken place in London and members of the counter revolutionary warfare wing (CRW) who were practising their close quarters battle (CQB) in the ‘killing house’ were paged with ‘999’ telling them that a real incident had taken place and that this isn’t an exercise.  36 SAS troopers loaded into converted white Land Rover’s with their tactical CQB gear and set off for London from their base in Hereford.

A large group of demonstrators gathered just out of earshot of the embassy shouting ‘Death to Carter’ and ‘we are Ala’s soldiers, we are Humanise soldiers’.  This was a dangerous situation as the terrorists could easily of acted unfavourably towards the protests, possibly even firing at them from the embassy.

The terrorists didn’t speak good English so the hostages were used to communicate between the terrorists and the negotiators and a telex was received from the terrorists listing their demands, they demanded:

“One: we demand our human and legitimate rights. Two: we demand freedom, autonomy and recognition of the Arab people. Three: we demand the release of ninety-one Arab prisoners in Arabistan. If all the demands are not met by noon on Thursday, May 1, the Embassy and all the hostages will be blown up.” The terrorist also demanded that negotiators from Iraq, Jordan and Algeria were flown over to take control of the negotiations.

Scotland Yard’s ‘techies’ drilled the outer walls of the embassy to plant video and audio surveillance devices to gauge the locations of the terrorists and to monitor the situation inside the embassy.

A ministerial and civil service committee was set-up to discuss the embassy situation and investigate their demands, details are classified but it is known that the then Home Secretary William Whitehall chaired the committee, and other members included the foreign secretary, Barney Hahoe (you try and spell it) of the Ministry of Defence, and representatives of the Home Office, MI5 and MI6.  The committee was called COBRA named after the room it took place in.

The SAS troopers arrived in London at around 11:30pm, staying for two days at Regent Park Barracks they were all totally kited out and ready for a fight.  Their kits contained the Bristol body armour, Heckler & Koch MP5, Browning High Power, lightweight Northern Ireland boots (good for running and kicking in doors), S6 respirator (so they could breath through the CS gas) and an NBC suit, to be warn under the body armour.  The clothing is designed to provoke a psychological response in a terrorist, when confronted by this totally black, barely human figure the look of an SAS operative can buy them just a few valuable seconds.

One woman was released on the first day of the siege.

Thursday May 1st, 1980

By the second day negotiations were in full swing and the police were using classic stall tactics to tire out the terrorists and keep them calm. Oan was the group leader (codename Salim) and the only one that spoke any English, he agreed to release two hostages on humanitarian grounds, Chris Cramer who was complaining of severe stomach cramps and a pregnant women.

Friday May 2nd, 1980

Over the first few days the terrorists had been apologising for the ‘trouble’ they were causing and guaranteeing the safety of all non Iranian hostages, however on Friday they started to became cagey, not convinced that their demands were being met.  By this time COBRA had already decided not to meet the demands of the terrorists, actually they couldn’t because it was later revealed that the ninety-one Arab prisoners had already been executed.

The terrorists change their demands only requesting a car to Heathrow and a plane ready to take them and the hostages out of the UK.

That night, concerned with the tension in the embassy, the SAS moved through London in an old hired van, which they parked in the back streets of Kensington out of sight of the embassy.  They made their way to number 14 Princess Gate (next to the embassy) through the back gardens of neighbouring buildings.  Once there the SAS moved into ‘immediate action’ (IA) meaning they did target appreciation, where by they go over all the intelligence on the embassy and compile a plan for a full on tactical assault.  All the troopers on IA were always fully kited out meaning they wore all their assault gear all the time, they had their primary and secondary weapons loaded and ‘made ready’ (bullet in the barrel and safety on.)  And all of the troopers went through a full briefing of the assault plan so that everyone knew exactly what they were doing and could carry out the mission without any further orders.

Saturday May 3rd, 1980

The terrorists released two more hostages and the SAS interview Chris Cramer and the caretaker of the embassy who of course had intimate knowledge of it.  Cramer was able to give a good account of the number of terrorists inside the embassy, and the number of hostages being held as well as their location in the embassy.  The best information the SAS got out of the caretaker was that the embassy was fitted with armour plated windows, which meant they would need to be blown in instead of beaten by sledgehammers as had been originally planned.  And he told the SAS that a skylight had fallen into disrepair and may well be forced open.  That night a four-man reconnaissance team went up onto the roof of number fourteen and across to the Iranian embassy to investigate the skylight.  They found that the wooden surround was rotten, the lead lining cracked and the lock damaged, so they ripped off the lock and opened the skylight, one trooper suspended himself down head and shoulders into the room below to take a look around, they radioed back what they had found a guaranteed entry point which should be written into the deliberate action and headed back to number 14.

Sunday May 4th, 1980

Another hostage is released and the mood of the terrorists is considered more positive.

Monday May 5th, 1980

Overnight the mood has started to change, the terrorists are becoming annoyed at the lack of any of their demands being met and threaten to kill someone if their demands are not met.  At 11am PC Trevor Lock tells police threw an open window that somebody will be shot in thirty minutes if the terrorist demands are not met, the police say that talks are in progress.  Inside the embassy the terrorists take Iranian hostage Abbas Lavasani down stairs with PC Lock and Sim Harris. Around noon PC Lock and Sim Harris are taken back upstairs and put with the other hostages, an argument between Oan and Abbas is heard by hostages followed by three gunshots, some hostages say they heard a thud seconds after.  At about 19:00 more shots were heard and Abbas was pushed out of the door, it is unclear when Abbas was actually murdered.  The mood of the SAS changed, one operative is quoted as saying “there’s no turning back after killing people on British soil, there’s no second chance, their fate was sealed at that point… diplomacy had failed… the only way out for them [the terrorists] was prison or a box.

Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher gave her permission for the SAS to be used and sent in to resolve the situation, the SAS were already out of the door and moving into position.

The Assault

“They [the terrorists] constantly had grenades in their pockets, you don’t mess around with people like that, you go in hard, you go in and hard and you kill ‘em or they’ll kill you.”

While the negotiators talked to Oan the SAS moved into their final assault positions, an explosive charge was lowered from the skylight, the resulting explosion would signal the assault and confuse the terrorists.  Men would abseil down the rear of the embassy onto a second floor balcony, their job, to clear the second floor.  Another team would move in from ground level, and use an explosive entry charge to blow in the back door, their job was to follow the explosion in, ‘flashbang’ the room, clear the ground floor and cellar.  Another team would use frame charges to enter the embassy from the first floor balcony which are the pictures seen on television and another team would abseil through the skylight to clear the top two floors.  It is also rumoured that another team was used, they went in from the neighbouring, through the wall!!!.  This is a technique where the SAS remove all the bricks partitioning the two buildings, just leaving a thin plaster which would be blown in and a team would enter through the hole (this technique can be seen in a film called Who Dares Wins.)

When the troopers started abseiling down the rear of the embassy one of them got weighed down by his equipment and in his struggle the rope knotted, the charge underneath him had to be removed otherwise he would have been caught in the explosion.  Then Oan, who was talking to the negotiators, said he called here strange noises, GO! GO! GO! Screeched over the radios and the skylight explosive went of they had to move in leaving the tangled trooper who was soon cut down by colleagues and he rejoined the assault.

The accounts I have heard over how the terrorists were killed conflict, the Internet sources all say that four men were killed by the SAS, one by a sniper and one was caught trying to escape outside.  However the accounts by troopers actually involved in the siege say that 5 men were killed by the SAS and one was found outside (from The Soldiers Story: Iranian Embassy Siege.)

Terrorist 1

Whilst clearing the first floor a terrorist ran past some SAS troopers, one trooper fired at him but missed and he ran off into a room, no-one knows where he came from.  Two troopers flashbanged the room and went in after him however they didn’t have torches and couldn’t see him so they called for two more men with flashlights to search the room.  They found him hiding on a sofa with a pistol and killed him, they left him and he later burned in the embassy fire.

Terrorist 2

Just after the initial assault occurred Oan, who was with PC Lock spotted a trooper at a window, just before he could kill the trooper PC Lock rugby tackled him, saving the troopers life for which he was awarded the St George Cross.  The BBC site claims the SAS then “burst into the room and shot Salim (Oan)” the video makes no reference to this however there is an account by a trooper who went into a room and saw two men fighting he killed the armed Iranian, this is presumably the same incident.

Terrorists 3 and 4

The BBC states that “in the panic and confusion of the explosions, the gunmen on the second floor opened fire on the male hostages. One hostage, Ali Akbar Samadzadegh, was killed and two others injured.  According to other hostages the gunmen then decided to surrender and gave up their weapons – which were then thrown out the window. The SAS burst into the room and demanded that the terrorists were identified. They shot two of the gunmen.”

The troopers claim is different, on the video it is depicted that gunshots are heard as the terrorists shoot the hostages, the SAS move in kill one armed terrorist and another has jumped into the group of hostages, they demand he is identified and as they search him he has a pistol between his legs and a grenade in his hand so they kill him.

Which you believe is up to you, I would tend to believe the highly trained, highly skilled and experience soldiers over the tired, hungry and scared hostages not that I would try and influence you in anyway!

Terrorist 5

No arguments here, whilst evacuating the hostages a man runs in amongst them with his head down, one trooper sees a grenade in his hand but can’t fire due to the proximity of the hostages, so he pushes him down the stairs.  Another trooper opens fire and the other troops respond shooting him when he hits the ground, as he falls the grenade falls out of his hand a moment of panic hits until it is clear that the pin is in.

Terrorist 6

The SAS claim he was helped outside by the hostages however he was identified whilst handcuffed and led away by police.

When hostages were evacuated they met a ‘welcoming committee’ who restrained and handcuffed them until they could be identified and then helped to the awaiting ambulances.  As the SAS left one trooper grabbed the insurance certificate noticing that it had expired on May 30th, 1980, the embassy wasn’t refurbished and for years it was a popular tourist attraction.

Operation Nimrod took less than 15 minutes, five terrorists were killed and 19 hostages rescued