Digital History
Teheran Students Seize U.S Embassy And Hold Hostages: Ask Shah's Return And Trial
Digital History ID 1173


Annotation: On Nov. 4, 1979, a group of radical college students scaled the walls of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and took diplomats, embassy staff, Marine guards and three CIA agents hostage. One hostage was a California businessman who had the bad luck to be in the embassy when it was seized. Convinced that the embassy was a “den of spies,” students had already attempted to seize the compound in February, but police had expelled the protestors. But when President Carter admitted the ailing, exiled shah to the United States for cancer treatment, the embassy staff was vulnerable to the Iranian students’ anger. A CIA backed coup in 1953 had placed the Shah in power. Most of the women and minority prisoners were soon released, but most of the remaining 52 remained in captivity for 444 days, subjected to solitary confinement, beatings, and mock executions.

The seizure of the U.S. Embassy was not orchestrated by Iranian officials; it was initiated by student militants who wanted to dramatize the fact that a CIA-backed coup had placed the Shah in power and who feared that the United States would overturn the Iranian revolution. Its practical effect was to weaken the position of moderates in Iran and to strengthen the country’s clerical leaders.

With Iran lacking a stable government, diplomatic efforts to resolve the hostage crisis failed. Finally, President Jimmy Carter ordered the newly created Delta Force to attempt a rescue. But the effort proved futile. The rescue force lost eight men, seven helicopters and a C-130 transport plane in the Iranian desert. Negotiations to secure the hostages’ release continued, but it wasn’t until Ronald Reagan was sworn in on January 21, 1980 that the captives were allowed to depart Iran.

Document: Khomeini Said to Support Attack by Several Hundred Youths--No Casualties Reported

Iran Students Seize U.S. Embassy, Want the Shah Returned for Trial


Teheran, Iran, Nov. 4--Moslem students stormed the United States Embassy in Teheran today, seized about 90 Americans and vowed to stay there until the deposed Shah was sent back from New York to face trial in Iran.

There were no reports of casualties in the takeover of the embassy building, although witnesses said some of the several hundred attackers were armed.

A student spokesman told reporters at the embassy that 100 hostages had been taken and that 90 percent of them were Americans. He said the embassy staff was being treated well.

Has Khomeini's Support

In the holy city of Qum, a spokesman for Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini said the occupation of the embassy had the revolutionary leader's personal support.

[In New York City, a small group of Iranian students chained themselves to railings inside the Statue of Liberty for three hours and unfurled a banner from the monument's top demanding that the deposed Shah be returned to Iran. Page A11.]

Iranian Revolutionary Guards at the embassy gates did not intervene during the attack, which came as tens of thousands of people marched through the streets of the Iranian capital on the first anniversary of the shooting of students at Teheran University by the Shah's security forces.

Western diplomatic sources said Bruce Laingen, the charge d'affaires who heads the United States Mission here, was not among the Americans seized by the students. They said he was in touch throughout the day with Foreign Minister Ibrahim Yazdi, who had just returned from an official visit to Algiers.

The Iranian Foreign Ministry, in a statement reported by the official Pars news agency, said:

Embassy Files Captured

"Today's move by a group of our compatriots is a natural reaction to the U.S. Government's indifference to the hurt feelings of the Iranian people about the presence of the deposed Shah, who is in the United States under the pretext of illness.

"If the U.S. authorities respected the feelings of the Iranian people and understood the depth of the Iranian revolution, they should have at least not allowed the deposed Shah into the country and should have returned his property."

The students showed reporters embassy files captured in the raid. They said staff in the building had been trying to burn documents when the embassy was taken over.

The students who invaded the embassy compound wore badges with the portrait of Ayatollah Khomeini, and they put up a banner saying: "Khomeini struggles, Carter trembles."

They read a statement they said they had received from Ayotollah Hossein Ali of Ayatollah Khomeini, and they put up a banner saying: "Khomeini struggles, Carter trembles."

They read a statement they said they had received from Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, head of Iran's Constitutional Assembly of Experts, in which they quoted him as saying:

"A few days ago, the Iman said the Iranian nation must clean up its situation vis-a-vis the United States. This action is a kind of recognition of that situation. America must know it can't play with the feelings of the Iranian nation." The Imam referred to is Ayatollah Khomeini.

The embassy takeover followed a series of strongly anti-American speeches by Ayatollah Khomeini, who said recently he hoped reports that the former Shah, Mohammed Riza Pahlevi, was dying of cancer were true. The Shah, who was deposed in the revolution led by the Ayatollah last January, is being treated for cancer at New York Hospital-Cornell Medical Center.

The official Iranian radio broadcast a statement by the Islamic Society of University Teachers and Students commending the embassy takeover. "We defend the capture of this imperialist embassy, which is a center for espionage," the statement said.

This was the second time the embassy has been taken over since the revolution. Gunmen believed to be dissident revolutionaries invaded the embassy last Feb. 14, killing one Iranian and taking 101 people hostage, including Ambassador William H. Sullivan and 19 Marine guards.

The takeover came when both the Iranian and United States Governments appeared to be seeking improved relations.

The students involved in the takeover quoted from a recent speech by Ayatollah Khomeini in which he said, "What do we need a relationship with America for?"

In the speech in Qum, the Ayatollah declared : "Those who support great powers like Britain, which has given asylum to Bakhtiar, and the United States, which has given refuge to that corrupt germ, will be confronted in a different manner by us if they continue." Shapur Bakhtiar was the last Prime Minister under the regime of the deposed Shah.

The newspaper Islamic Republic, which speaks for the ruling clergy, called on Prime Minister Mehdi Bazargan today to explain what was discussed in his 75 minute meeting with President Carter's national security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, in Algiers last week.

"In these days when the leader of the revolution has launched the strongest attacks on the world predator imperialists led by the United States, at a time when the United States, the United Kingdom and their allies plan plots against our people and every day confront the revolution, you, Mr. Bazargan, sit and talk with Brzezinski in Algeria," the newspaper said.

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