Iran embassy siege: How the historic SAS mission unfolded 40 years ago
Witness to history: Patrick Cockburn gives his gripping account of the Iranian embassy seige, 40 years on
At noon on 30 April 1980 I was walking across Hyde Park from my flat in Westbourne Terrace in Notting Hill towards the Iranian Embassy in Princes Gate in South Kensington. I was going there in pursuit of a visa to visit Iran that had been in revolutionary turmoil since the overthrow of the Shah the previous year and the return of Ayatollah Khomeini.
My mind must have been on other things, such as what I would say to the Iranian press attache to persuade him to grant me a visa, because I only slowly took on board that something out-of-the-ordinary was happening on the south side of the park: agitated people were running to and fro and the police were setting up a cordon. I asked one of the policemen if I could get through as I was on my way to the Iranian embassy, and he gave me a startled look. “You don’t want to do that,” he said. “That’s where all the trouble is.”
Half an hour earlier six heavily armed men had burst into the Iranian embassy at 16 Princes Gate, taking it over, and seizing 26 hostages. These included Iranian diplomats and embassy staff, non-Iranian journalists interviewing diplomats or seeking visas, as well as an unlucky assortment of others such as a carpet dealer, a banker and a tourist. My feelings were a mix of disappointment that I had not arrived a bit earlier – and had a hostage-eye’s view of the siege – and relief that I had escaped indefinite incarceration, possibly culminating in execution by the gunmen.