4 November 1979: Militants Storm US Embassy in Tehran


Former Militant Islamic students in Iran stormed the US embassy in the Iranian capital, Tehran, and took more than 90 people hostage. The students demanded that the Shah of Iran, who fled the country in January, be extradited from the US, where he was currently receiving medical treatment for cancer, to stand trial in Iran.

It was reported that revolutionary guards and police did nothing to stop the take-over and Iranian television had indicated its support for the action by broadcasting live pictures of the siege. Ayatollah Rubollah Khomeini, who assumed control of Iran in February, also voiced his support for the occupation.

One of the hostage-takers, speaking to reporters by telephone from inside the embassy, gave assurances that there was no immediate danger to the hostages, that they were safe and were being fed. He said the action was a show of strength and the hostages could be released in the next two or three days.

Supporters of the siege, many of them children, gathered outside the embassy. Some set fire to American flags and posted anti-American messages around the building. The storming of the embassy followed months of political and religious tension in Iran. Violent protests against Shah Reza Pahlavi's regime culminated in a revolution coordinated by Ayatollah Khomeini from exile in France.

In January the Shah and his family fled Iran for the US. Within weeks, Ayatollah Khomeini, who had been expelled from Iran by the Shah in 1964, returned to Iran and was greeted by more than five million devotees lining the streets of Tehran. The Ayatollah immediately dismissed Prime Minister Shapur Bahktiar and installed Mehdi Bzargan as his replacement. He declared an Islamic Republic of Iran in April and presided over a brutal and repressive regime until his death in 1989.

Two weeks after the siege began 13 female and black hostages were released from the embassy. In April 1980 a dramatic rescue mission failed and eight American soldiers were killed. Diplomatic relations between Iran and the US broke down in July 1980 over the crisis. On 21 January 1981, on the same day as the inauguration of President Reagan, the crisis came to an end when 52 American hostages were freed after 444 days. The Shah of Iran never returned to Iran and died in exile in Egypt in July 1980.