On April 30, 1980, 6 men approached the Iranian Embassy at Princes Gate, in South Kensington, London. They were Arabs, members of a little known dissident group called the Democratic Revolutionary Front for the Liberation of Arabistan, an oil rich area of Iran which had ruled itself autonomously until 1925. Their goals were to reestablish independence from Iran, and as they pulled automatic weapons and rushed into the embassy lobby, soon they believed, the world would know of their cause.
Overpowering a lone British constable, Trevor Lock, the gunmen shouted at the embassy staff and fired their weapons into the air, forcing them to the floor. They worked their way up the stairs repeating the process until they captured the remaining personnel, but not before three people managed to escape by climbing outside across a parapet to the Ethiopian embassy next door. Behind them, 26 hostages remained.
Within minutes of the gunfire, police began arriving at the embassy and assessing the threat. An attempt to surround the multi-story building failed after one of the gunmen appeared in a window threatening to fire. Inside, the terrorists corralled their captives, unaware that one of them, Constable Lock, still concealed his service revolver even after being searched. As it turns out, Lock would later play a vital role as events came to a climax.
The Iranian Embassy Siege Begins
The terrorists issued their first demands, requiring Iran to release 91 Arabs from their prisons or they would blow the embassy up on May 1. What followed over the next few days were intense negotiations but little headway. The police did an admirable job of stalling the group as another plan to end the siege was formulated.
The 22nd Special Air Service (S.A.S), an elite British Army unit created during World War 2 and honed through insurgency battles in Malaysia and other hot spots, was chosen to carry out an assault that seemed tailor-made for the detachment’s Counter Revolutionary Warfare Wing, men who specialized in Anti-Terror operations such as hostage recovery. In short order, Operation Nimrod became reality.
On May 5th, the sixth day of the siege, one of the hostages was executed, resulting in the operation being moved into place. Prime Minister Thatcher placed authority for the situation under the British Army and Lieutenant Colonel Mike Rose, the 22nd’s commander, and soon, two teams, designated Red and Blue, involving about 35 men, crept into position atop the embassy.
At 7:23 P.M., with a nationwide TV audience watching, the S.A.S commenced the assault. Black-uniformed operators wearing gas masks and carrying MP-5 SMG’s began rappelling down to breach windows on the second floor. A stun grenade detonated, starting a fire that began to grow as the S.A.S raced down the darkened halls, shattering door locks with full auto fire, tossing stun grenades and clearing rooms. Their gun sights swept for targets and shredded them with quick bursts. They located the hostages, secured them, and led them away as an entrance for other S.A.S blew out the first floor balcony with an ear shattering burst.
As the S.A.S started clearing the first floor, Constable Lock tackled the terrorist leader known as Salim as he was about to fire, and held his revolver to his head until the SAS ordered him away, and shot the man as he rose. They retrieved Lock and joined up with the rest of the hostages being led out by the teams. Suddenly, one of the S.A.S shouted “He’s a terrorist, He’s a terrorist!” as the hostages filed down stairs. A terrorist was among them with a grenade. 2 S.A.S stitched him with 9mm SMG rounds. 27 holes in total. They then resumed evacuating, and an all clear was given.
The S.A.S. Becomes Famous
Nimrod lasted just 17 minutes, and resulted in 5 of 6 terrorists dead, 1 SAS member wounded, one hostage killed by the terrorists and 2 hostages wounded. Its ramifications, though, still sound to this day.
“We had actually expected to lose more hostages, to be quite honest,” an S.A.S member on in the raid later remarked.
The late John Macaleese, another member of the raid, said as far as difficulties encountered during the operation: “This is why you’ve got this adaptability and flexibility within the Regiment.”
The S.A.S., once on the verge of being disbanded by lawmakers as ‘wasteful’, found itself inundated by requests for services worldwide, and its place assured not only in the British Army, but history as well.